A bomber on foot, described by witnesses as a teenager, killed the head and deputy head of the Bajaur Levies, a security force drawn from local Pashtun tribesmen, said an official with the local tribal administration.
A Taliban spokesman said the two officials had been targeted in retaliation for the death of Sheikh Marwan, an Al Qaeda commander killed by security forces in Bajaur in 2011.”We will continue to attack government-sponsored militias and security forces,” said Ihsanullah Ihsan in a statement delivered through an intermediary.
The attack came one day after the United States released 17 letters seized from the compound of Osama bin Laden, who was killed by American forces in May 2011. Some of the letters indicated the Al Qaeda leader’s concern for the high civilian toll from Pakistani Taliban attacks.
Friday’s attack took place in Khar, the capital of Bajaur. Witnesses said a bomber struck at a crossroads just before 8 a.m. as markets were opening.
The two senior security officers were visiting the area after intelligence reports of a possible assault. “They were checking up on their men. There had been a security high alert due to an intercept about an impending attack,” the tribal official said, on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
An official at the main hospital in Khar said 19 people had been killed and the 10 most seriously wounded had been transferred to Peshawar, the capital of nearby Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Bajaur had enjoyed a lull in major militant attacks since December 2010, when a suicide bomber killed at least 40 people in an attack on a food distribution point run by the United Nations World Food Program. The Pakistani Army has been operating in the region, which borders Afghanistan, since 2008 in a bid to oust fighters loyal to the local warlord, Faqir Muhammad, a former deputy leader of the main Taliban group in Pakistan, Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan.
Fierce fighting drove Mr. Muhammad across the border into Kunar Province in Afghanistan, where his fighters have taken advantage of the vacuum left by departing American troops to coordinate fresh attacks inside Pakistan.
In recent months Mr. Muhammad has been seen as a declining force inside the Taliban after he was deposed as second in command by the Waziristan-based leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, who was reportedly angered by reports that Mr. Muhammad had initiated peace talks with the Pakistani government. At the time, there was speculation that his ouster could lead to a split in the Taliban ranks. Militant sources said Mr. Muhammad has since been replaced in Bajaur by Dadullah, another Taliban commander who goes by one name, and who was believed to be responsible for Friday’s attack.
The situation in Bajaur is the opposite of that further south along the lawless border in North and South Waziristan, where Afghan Taliban militants use safe havens on Pakistani soil to attack NATO troops inside Afghanistan — a major source of tension between Pakistan and the United States.