Militant violence kills around 40 in Pakistan

Forty-one people, including 21 Taliban militants and four policemen, were killed Thursday in Pakistan in suicide bombings, roadside attacks by militants and military airstrikes, officials said, dpa reported.

The violence came as the country's lawmakers were receiving a closed-door briefing from the military leadership on the extent of the threat posed by growing Islamic militancy in tribal areas along the Afghan border and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Jet planes and helicopter gunships pounded both a compound of senior militant commander Omar Rehman and a training camp in Matta area of the restive valley of Swat in the NWFP, army spokesman Major Murad Khan told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

"Twenty-one miscreants were killed and numerous injured," he said.

Nine people, including two women and four children, were killed when stray mortar shells struck their houses. It was not clear whether militants or security forces had fired the rounds.

Swat, formerly a popular tourist destination, has seen increasing violence since late 2007, when government forces launched operations against followers of radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has waged an armed struggle to enforce strict Taliban-style Islamic laws.

The violence is also spreading to the relatively peaceful neighbouring district of Dir, where a roadside bomb exploded next to a police van transporting prisoners to the local jail in the Khwaga Oba area.

Four policemen and three prisoners were killed in the explosion, local police officer Ghulam Mohammad said. A passing vehicle carrying schoolgirls was also hit in the incident, leaving four of the children dead.

Officials at the local hospital reported that 15 people - mostly policemen and children - were injured in the blast.

Meanwhile, five officers were wounded when a suicide car bomber blew himself up inside the police headquarters in the capital, Islamabad.

The attacker managed to drive through the security cordon at the main gate and ram his explosives-laden car into a multi-storey building used by the anti-terrorist police as a barracks and interrogation centre, Islamabad Police Chief Asghar Raza Gardezi said.

The attack occurred as the country's parliamentarians were holding a closed-door session to form a consensus on how to deal with the militant violence that has intensified over the last few months as security forces have carried out major offensives against insurgents in the ungoverned tribal region and the NWFP.

Heavy collateral damage in the military operations has triggered political dissent, with many lawmakers demanding a halt to the actions.

The new head of the country's premier Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, Lieutenant General Ahmad Shuja Pasha, told the parliament that the Taliban extremists were using children as fighters and suicide bombers.

He said the military had made enormous sacrifices since it joined the fight against terrorism following al-Qaeda's attacks on United States in 2001.

"The lawmakers were informed that 1,368 soldiers were martyred (killed) and 3,348 wounded," military sources told dpa.

Meanwhile, 581 fighters of Arab and Central Asian origin, believed to be linked with the al-Qaeda terrorist network, were eliminated, 311 injured and 330 arrested in actions across the country, said the official who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pakistani security forces also conducted several offensives in tribal areas and some districts of the NWFP, and killed 2,224 local Taliban militants, injured 1,089 and arrested 2,414 over the last seven years.

Civilian casualties in dozens of suicide and other militant attacks, as well as in air and artillery strikes by Pakistani forces, were not included in the data.

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