Shahi Koto: Authorities have detained 35 suspects in connection with a suicide car bombing that killed three US soldiers in northwest Pakistan who were part of a little-publicised mission to train local forces to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda, police said on Thursday.
The killings on Wednesday were the first known US military fatalities in nearly three years in Pakistan`s Afghan border region, drawing attention to a training program officials rarely discuss because of opposition here to American boots on Pakistani soil.
The blast also killed three girls at a nearby school and a Pakistani paramilitary soldier travelling with the Americans. Two more US soldiers were wounded, along with about 100 other people, mostly students at the school. Several were left trapped, bloodied and screaming in the rubble.
"We launched a massive search in the area yesterday, and now about 35 suspects are in our custody and we are questioning them in an effort to trace those who orchestrated the suicide attack," police official Naeem Khan said. "God willing, we will capture those responsible for this carnage."
Khan said authorities have concluded the blast was caused by a suicide car bomb, not a roadside bomb detonated by remote control as previously reported. Police have recovered the engine number of the vehicle used in the attack in Lower Dir, said Khan.
The US special envoy to Pakistan, Richard Holbrooke, said on Wednesday it did not appear the Americans were directly targeted by the blast.
But witnesses said the vehicle carrying the Americans took the brunt of the explosion as their five-car convoy travelled along the road in Shahi Koto town, indicating it may in fact have been directed at the Americans. That would raise the spectre of a militant informant close to the training mission.
Lower Dir is a base for militants belonging to the Pakistani Taliban. The Pakistani army claimed to have retaken the area from the militants last June in a widely praised offensive that also cleared the insurgents from the nearby Swat Valley.