CHARSADDA, (Reuters) – Suicide bombers attacked a Pakistani paramilitary academy on Friday, killing 80 people in revenge for the death of Osama bin Laden, as Pakistani anger over the U.S. raid to get the al Qaeda leader showed no sign of abating.
Hours after the blast, attention was focussed on parliament, where security chiefs briefed legislators about bin Laden’s killing, which has been a huge embarrassment to Pakistan, and the head of the intelligence agency was cited as saying he was ready to face consequences if criminal negligence was proven.
U.S. special forces flew in from Afghanistan and found and killed the mastermind of the September 11, 2001, attacks at his hideout in a northern Pakistani town on May 2.
Pakistan welcomed his death as a major step against militancy but was outraged by the secret U.S. raid, saying it was a violation of its sovereignty.
The discovery of bin Laden in the town of Abbottabad, near the country’s top military academy, has deepened suspicion in the United States that its ally Pakistan knew where he was.
Bin Laden’s followers have vowed revenge for his death and the Pakistani Taliban said the Friday attack by two suicide bombers on a paramilitary academy in the northwestern town of Charsadda was their first taste of vengeance.
“There will be more,” militant spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
The attackers struck as the recruits were going on leave and 65 of them were among the 80 dead. Pools of blood strewn with soldiers caps and shoes lay on the road outside the academy as the wounded, looking dazed with parts of their clothes ripped away by shrapnel, were loaded into trucks.
Shahid Ali, 28, was on his way to his shop when the bombs went off. He tried to help survivors. “A young boy was lying near a wrecked van asked me to take him to hospital. I got help and we got him into a vehicle,” Ali said.
Hours after the bombing, a U.S. drone aircraft fired missiles at a vehicle in North Waziristan on the Afghan border, killing five militants, Pakistani security officials said.
It was the fourth drone attack since bin Laden was killed, inflaming another sore issue between Pakistan and the United States. Pakistan officially objects to these attacks, saying they violate its sovereignty. It also says the civilian casualties complicate its efforts to fight militants by gaining the support of local villagers.
The United States says the drone strikes are carried out under an agreement with Pakistan and it has made clear it will go after militants in Pakistan when it finds them.
“LIVING LIKE A DEAD MAN”
Pakistan has long used militants as proxies to oppose the influence of its old rival India, and is widely believed to be helping some factions even while battling others.
But it has rejected as absurd suggestions its security agencies might have known where bin Laden was hiding.
The military and government have also come in for criticism at home, partly for failing to find bin Laden but more for failing to detect or stop the surprise U.S. raid.
Military and intelligence chiefs gave parliament a closed-door briefing about bin Laden’s killing in which the head of the main Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency told legislators he was ready to take responsibility for any criminal failing, a minister said.
“If any of our responsibility is determined and any gap identified, that our negligence was criminal negligence, and there was an intentional failure, then we are ready to face any consequences,” Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told Express TV, citing ISI chief Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
Pasha said killing bin Laden was a common U.S.-Pakistani goal but the Americans had breached Pakistan’s sovereignty by going after him on their own.
The U.S. raid had taken 40 minutes and the Americans had used superior technology including stealth helicopters which Pakistan could not detect, the minister said.
The spy chief also told parliament bin Laden had been isolated and “living like a dead man”, the minister said.
“We had already killed all his allies and so we had killed him even before he was dead. He was living like a dead man,” Awan cited Pasha as saying.
Since the killing of bin Laden, some U.S. lawmakers have called for suspending aid to Pakistan because of doubts about its commitment in going after violent Islamists.
But President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of maintaining cooperation with Pakistan in the interests of battling militancy and bringing stability to neighbouring Afghanistan.
The United States has long pressed Pakistan to tackle Afghan Taliban taking shelter in Pakistani enclaves on the border, but the chance of greater cooperation with the United States appears to have been dented by the U.S. operation against bin Laden.
The chairman of Pakistan’s joint chiefs of staff committee, General Khalid Shameem Wynne, has cancelled a five-day visit to the United States beginning on May 22.
“He called his U.S. counterpart … and informed him that the visit could not be undertaken under existing circumstances,” a military official told Reuters.
He did not elaborate, but the decision to cancel the visit came as the cabinet defence committee said it was reviewing cooperation with the United States on counter-terrorism.
The parameters of such cooperation would be clearly defined “in accordance with Pakistan’s national interests and the aspirations of the people”, the committee said in a statement.