AWAR At least 10 persons including three US soldiers and three personnel of the security forces were killed, while 65 others including 40 students got injured in a remote-controlled bomb blast outside a girls school at Shahi Koto area of Lower Dir on Wednesday.
The US soldiers, whom the embassy said were training paramilitary troops, were travelling in a convoy with local troops, journalists and officials to the opening of the girls school when the roadside bomb exploded, leaving a crater a few feet away from the school.
Soon after the blast, the rescuers rushed towards the blast site and started rescue activities. The injured and the dead were shifted to District Headquarters Hospital, Dir. Police and security personnel also rushed towards the blast site and cordoned off the area. They also collected evidence from the blast site. District Police Officer Mumtaz Zarin Khan confirmed that it was a remote-controlled bomb blast.
It appears to be the first time that US soldiers have been killed in such an incident in Pakistan, a key ally on the frontline of the war on Al-Qaeda where militants have killed around 3,000 people since July 2007.
It is worth mentioning here that as part of its offensive against militants in Swat, the Pak Army had also carried out operations in Lower Dir and successfully rooted out militants from the area, while the local people have also set up militias to root out insurgents taking refuge in the area. Taliban militants have attacked dozens of girls schools in this part of the country and these attacks have hampered female education system badly.
The Taliban claimed the responsibility for the bomb and alleged that the dead Americans belonged to US security company Blackwater, which has earned global notoriety over its activities in Iraq.
We claim responsibility for the blast, Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Azam Tariq said in the call from an undisclosed location. The Americans killed were members of the Blackwater group. We know they are responsible for bomb blasts in Peshawar and other Pakistani cities.
Officials said a Frontier Corps soldier and four schoolgirls also died in the attack in Koto village.
We have four dead bodies. They are schoolgirls aged 10 to 15. We have received 65 injured, most of them are girls, said Mohammad Wakeel, chief doctor at the local hospital in Temargara, the main town in Lower Dir.
The same school was blown up in January 2009 and rebuilt with the help of a foreign aid organisation, believed by police to have been the US Agency for International Development (USAID).
Western groups have been working with the Pakistani government to promote girls education in parts of the northwest, where Taliban-linked militants opposed to co-education have destroyed hundreds of schools.
USAID last week published a report warning that a project intended to improve governance in Pakistans lawless tribal belt, which borders Lower Dir, had achieved little over the last three years.
Two US military personnel were killed in the September 2008 truck bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Pakistans capital Islamabad.
Kaswar Klasra from Islamabad adds: The Government of Pakistan and the US Embassy in Islamabad strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Lower Dir. We are grieved over the loss of innocent lives and convey our sincere sympathy and condolences to the members of the bereaved families. Such inhuman acts of terror only serve to fortify Pakistans resolve to eliminate the menace of terrorism, Foreign Office said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy stated that three Americans were killed and two injured in a terrorist bomb explosion in the Lower Dir. We are continuing to gather the facts about the incident.
Revealing details about the deceased soldiers, the US Embassy said that Americans were US military personnel in Pakistan to conduct training at the invitation of the Pakistan Frontier Corps. They were in Lower Dir to attend the inauguration ceremony of a school for girls that had recently been renovated with US humanitarian assistance.
The United States condemns this vicious terrorist bombing. We express our condolences to the families of the deceased and our sympathy and support to the wounded, authorities of US Embassy in Islamabad said in a message.
The US authorities further said that the carnage at the school in Lower Dir clearly shows the terrorists vision. The United States and Pakistan are partners in fighting terrorism and our people are working together to build schools, it added.
Meanwhile Awami National Party President Asfandyar Wali Khan and Provincial President Afrasiab Khattak strongly condemned the blast and said that terrorists by such type of heinous acts wants to sabotage the reconstruction and rehabilitation activities in the area, however they would be defeated at all cost.