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Suicide bombing of military convoy kills at least 18 in northwestern Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suspected suicide bomber attacked a truck carrying troops in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least 18 people and wounding 30, some seriously, police said.

The blast happened in Mingora, the main town of Swat district where 2,500 paramilitary troops were deployed this week to fight supporters of a militant cleric. It set off an explosion of ammunition carried inside a military truck, triggering gunfire.

Amjad Khan, a police officer dispatched to the hospital where the casualties were taken, said a suicide bomber killed at least 18 people and wounded 30. Most of the casualties were soldiers, but some bystanders were also hit. Some nearby shops were damaged.

The bomber hit a platoon of 43 Frontier Constabulary troops in a truck about 300 yards from the police district headquarters as they headed to Barikot, he said.

Mohammed Sajid, a citizen who helped some of the wounded from the truck, said there were as many as 20 dead.

Ambulances raced to the scene and authorities called for blood donations for the wounded.

Two police officials told The Associated Press it was suicide attack, but a third said it could have been a roadside bomb.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Pakistan's army said Wednesday that new troops have been deployed to Swat, a mountain valley popular with tourists until violence flared there this summer, to quell Maulana Fazlullah, who has called for Taliban-style rule and holy war against Pakistani authorities.

The once-idyllic valley has seen a string of bombings and suicide attacks on security forces — part of a wave of violence that has undermined the government's control of a swath of territory along the northwestern border, where sympathizers of Taliban and al-Qaida hold sway.

Fazlullah is the leader of Tehrik Nifaz-e-Sharia Mohammed, a banned pro-Taliban militant group which sent thousands of volunteers to Afghanistan to during the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.

As well as marshaling armed militants and enforcing Islamic law, Fazlullah has used an FM radio station to campaign against girls' education and denounce a recent polio vaccination program as a Western plot to sterilize Muslim children.