Twenty paramilitary troops were killed and 30 others injured on Sunday in a bomb attack by the Taliban inside a cantonment in Pakistan’s restive northwest, prompting Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to cancel his visit to Switzerland.
The army retaliated by shelling suspected militant hideouts in the area. The Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attack, issued a statement saying it was ready for talks with the government.
The blast ripped through a private van hired by the Frontier Corps to take troops from Bannu in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province to North Waziristan tribal region, a safe haven for Taliban and Al Qaeda elements.
“Twenty security personnel (were killed) and 30 others were injured in a vehicle-borne IED attack in Bannu cantonment today,” the military’s media arm said in a statement.
The explosion occurred at 8.45 am (Pakistan time) when the van was parked at a parade ground in the cantonment. “Frontier Corps troops were sitting inside the vehicle and lined up for move to North Waziristan Agency,” the statement said.
Military sources said six bodies were mutilated beyond recognition. “DNA tests are being carried out to identify them. Fifteen injured in a very critical condition were shifted to a military hospital in Peshawar by helicopter,” a source said.
Earlier reports said 22 troops were killed but the military confirmed 20 deaths.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office said Sharif had cancelled his visit to Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum in the wake of a spike in terror attacks, including the incident in Bannu.
“Our nation is united against extremism and terrorism and the sacrifices rendered by our citizens and personnel of law enforcing agencies will not go in vain,” Sharif said. Earlier, he strongly condemned the attack.
Shahidullah Shahid, spokesman for the banned Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, said in a statement his group carried out the attack to avenge the killing of its leaders.
At the same time, he said the Taliban were ready for talks with the government. “Our stance about the dialogue is very clear. If the government proves its power and sincerity, we are ready for meaningful talks despite our great losses.”