ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) – A suicide bomber blew himself up among a group of Pakistani army recruits returning from a game of soccer on Monday, killing nine of them, the army said.
The attack occurred near an army communications center in Kohat, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) west of Islamabad.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said nine troops were killed and four more wounded.
The young recruits were walking back to their quarters along a public road when a lone bomber walked up to them and set off the blast.
Police said troops had sealed off the area. Pakistan has suffered a string of suicide attacks in recent days, most of them targeting security forces.
On Saturday, a suicide bomber on a bicycle killed two soldiers and three civilians outside an army camp in the northwestern city of Nowshera.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but officials blame militants linked to the Taliban and al-Qaeda who have expanded their influence in areas near the Afghan border.
Arshad said it was possible that the suicide attacks were an attempt to avenge a major army operation against militants in the Swat valley, a former tourist destination about 150 kilometers (100 miles) from the capital, Islamabad.
The army claims to have killed about 300 militants in Swat during an operation that began last month. Artillery and helicopter gunships continued to pound targets in the Piochar side valley Monday.
Arshad also said that the army is investigating media reports that Pakistani militant groups have formed an umbrella organization to wage jihad, or holy war, against the government.
Baitullah Mehsud, a pro-Taliban warlord from the lawless South Waziristan tribal area, reportedly chaired a meeting of 40 representatives of militant groups, including from Swat, last week.
“We are trying to find out whether that meeting took place or not” or whether it was just a propaganda ploy by Mehsud, Arshad said.
Arshad said there were already loose links between the militant groups.
The Nation newspaper, citing a purported spokesman for Mehsud, reported that the new umbrella group, called Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, issued a ten-day ultimatum for the army to halt its operation in Swat.