Islamabad: Taliban struck with renewed fury in the Swat valley in Pakistan`s unruly northwest as a suicide bomber targeted a security convoy near a crowded market killing nine people and wounding 32 others, months after Army claimed to have flushed out the militants.
The bomber detonated his explosives when the security force convoy was passing though Nishat Chowk, a congested square in Mingora, the main city in Swat district.
Seven persons were killed instantly while two more succumbed to their injuries in hospital. Two security personnel and three women were among the dead.
Officials at a state-run hospital said they had received 32 injured. TV footage showed a car enveloped in flames as casualties lay on the ground in blood soaked cloths.
Minutes after the blast women and children could be seen scurrying to safety.
This was the first suicide attack in Swat in eight months, said Deputy Inspector General (Malakand range) Muhammad Idrees Khan. Authorities imposed curfew soon after the blast and launched a search operation.
Eight shops and six vehicles caught fire after the blast. TV footage showed the smouldering remains of several cars and auto-rickshaws in the busy square as police personnel scoured the site for clues.
The renewed attacks came amidst reports that the central leadership of the Taliban in Swat had gone underground and the local militant commander Maulana Fazlullah, had fled to Afghanistan. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying such incidents would not affect the government`s resolve to combat militancy.
Gilani said the people of Swat and Malakand division had rendered great sacrifices in fighting militants and restoring peace.
"Such inhuman acts of terrorism would not be able to shatter the determination of the people of Pakistan, and the people of Swat in particular, to curb this menace and fight the insane extremists," Gilani said.
Fazlullah`s second-in-command Shah Dauran was killed in the anti-militancy operation while local Taliban spokesman Muslim Khan is in the custody of security forces.
Experts said today`s blast has raised fears about security in the region, which had improved over the past few months. The fear-stricken local residents had heaved a sigh of relief as a semblance of normalcy had returned to the area.
Swat has been held up by Pakistani officials as a success story against Taliban and al Qaeda linked militants who claimed that the valley once a famed tourist spot has been cleared of all Taliban fighters.
The Army carried out almost three months long offensive in the valley claiming to have killed more than 2,000 Taliban militants in Swat and neighbouring Buner.
But violence and terror keeps on revisiting the valley and only last week a prominent lawmaker was killed by a suicide bomber in the nearby Kanju town.