17 dead in Pakistan madrassa blast
Islamabad/Lahore (PTI): At least 17 people, including seven children, died and 120 others were injured on Monday in a powerful explosion in a madrassa being used to make bombs as six Taliban militants were killed in a skirmish with security forces in Pakistan's South Waziristan tribal region.
As the Army prepares to launch a major assault against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Baitullah Mehsud and his network in South Waziristan, troops captured four militants in continuing search and clearance operations in the northwestern Swat Valley.
A group of militants attacked a check post manned by security forces along the Wana-Tank road in South Waziristan Agency this morning, triggering a gun battle. The security forces, while retaliating against the attack, encircled the militants and killed six of them.
Ten militants were injured during the exchange of fire and two of them were later arrested by the security forces, the local political agent said. The attackers escaped, leaving behind the bodies of six militants, he added.
The madrassa blast in a village near Mian Channu in southern Punjab killed at least 17 people, including seven children and a woman, and injured 120 others shortly before 10 am local time.
The explosives were stored in the home of madrassa teacher Riaz Ali, local residents said. Ali was a member of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba religious group.
Seventeen people were killed in the blast, Express 24/7 news channel reported. Officials put the death toll at 12, including seven children and a woman.
Doctors in local hospitals said 120 injured people had been brought for treatment. Over 40 of them were admitted to hospitals while many were allowed to go home after being given first aid.
Riaz Ali had collected explosives and ammunition for terrorist activities in Punjab, a police source said. Ali, who was injured in the blast, was arrested in a hospital. Law enforcement agencies shifted him to an unknown location.
District police chief Kamran Khan said four rocket launchers, two grenades and five suicide jackets were recovered from Ali's house. Other officials said the madrassa or seminary, set up by Ali's sister, was being used for making bombs.
Rescue workers and police also found jehadi material, including cassettes with militant propaganda and pamphlets of the Harkat-ul-Jehad al-Islami terrorist group, in the debris of Ali's house.
"It is suspected that Riaz Ali was planning to carry out terror attacks on important installations in Punjab," the police source told PTI.
The source said the Sipah-e-Sahaba, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Jaish-e-Muhammad and Lashker-e-Taiba had joined hands with the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan to carry out operations against security forces.
The Pakistani Taliban has vowed to take revenge for the military operations launched against militants in the country's northwest. Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, has been hit by suicide attackers in recent weeks.
The police source said it was "very surprising" that the police in Mian Channu, located 240 km from Lahore, did not have any clue about the activities of Ali, who had twice visited Afghanistan for training in terrorist camps. The source also said Ali was arrested twice in the past few years but was released.
It was not immediately known what had triggered the explosion. The blast created a crater 40 feet wide and eight feet deep and flattened about 25 structures, including a rural health centre and the madrassa. The explosion also uprooted trees and killed dozens of animals.
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