Image: Local residents carry their possessions
Mohammad Sajjad  /  AP
Islamist militants blew up a bridge in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, cutting a major supply line for Western troops in Afghanistan in the latest in a series of attacks on the Khyber Pass by insurgents seeking to hamper the U.S.-led mission against the Taliban.
updated 2/3/2009 11:14:43 AM ET 2009-02-03T16:14:43

Islamist militants blew up a bridge in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, cutting a major supply line for Western troops in Afghanistan in the latest in a series of attacks on the Khyber Pass by insurgents seeking to hamper the U.S.-led mission against the Taliban.

A NATO spokesman in Afghanistan confirmed that supplies along the route had been halted “for the time being,” but stressed the alliance was in no danger of running out of food, equipment or fuel.

Underscoring the insecurity that plagues many parts of the country, authorities said they were questioning 15 people in connection with the abduction of an American U.N. worker John Solecki in the southwest of the country.

They said the men, among them several Afghans, were not considered suspects in Monday’s kidnapping, which underscored the threats to foreigners in Pakistan as it battles al-Qaida militants.

The latest Khyber Pass attack highlights the urgent need NATO and the U.S. have for alternative supply routes to landlocked Afghanistan through nations to its north, an already vital task given American plans to double its troop numbers in the country.

U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus said last month that agreements are in place to use routes that cut through Central Asia, but details have yet to be announced.

Hidayat Ullah, a government official in the Khyber tribal area, said the 32-foot-long bridge was about 15 miles northwest of the main city of Peshawar. He said private cars as well as trucks carrying NATO and U.S. supplies were unable to cross it.

It was not immediately clear whether supply convoys could reach Afghanistan through alternative, smaller routes in the region. Another official in the area, Fazal Mahmood, said repair work had begun on the bridge.

Up to 75 percent of the fuel and supplies destined for U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan travel through Pakistan after being unloaded at the port of Karachi. Most are driven along the Khyber Pass.

Pakistan has dispatched paramilitary escorts for supply convoys and cracked down on militants in Khyber, but attacks have persisted in an area that up to three years ago was largely free of violence.

'Dastardly terrorist act'
U.N. worker Solecki was kidnapped as he traveled to work in Quetta city in Baluchistan, a province that partly borders Afghanistan but has largely been spared the al-Qaida and Taliban insurgency in the northwest.

The government called the abduction a “dastardly terrorist act.” But police said it was not clear whether Islamist militants, criminals seeking a ransom payment or members of a regional separatist group were responsible.

“We have opened investigations, and our various teams are working on this case and the effort is to safely recover the man,” said senior police officer Wazir Khan.

Solecki headed the Quetta office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which has worked for three decades in the region helping hundreds of thousands of Afghans fleeing violence in their homeland.

Suspected militants have attacked or kidnapped several foreigners in recent months.

In August, Lynne Tracy, the top U.S. diplomat in the northwest, narrowly survived an attack on her vehicle in Peshawar by suspected militants. In November, also in Peshawar, gunmen shot and killed American aid worker Stephen Vance.

Quetta has been mentioned by Afghan officials as a likely hiding place for Mullah Omar and other Taliban leaders thought to have fled Afghanistan after the U.S. invasion in 2001.

Baluchistan is also the scene of a low-level insurgency driven by nationalist groups wanting more regional autonomy. They are not known to target foreigners.

Mosque attack
Also Tuesday, someone threw a grenade inside a mosque in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, killing at least two people and wounding eight, officials said.

The grenade attack occurred in the evening as worshippers prayed in a mosque, police officer Jehangir Khattak said. The city has witnessed increasing Taliban activity, but it also has a history of sectarian clashes Sunni and Shiite Muslims.

At least two people died and eight others were wounded, said Ashiq Saleem, a doctor at a local hospital.

Meanwhile, at least 35 Islamist militants were killed in an overnight operation in Swat Valley, an area in the northwest which has been increasingly overrun with insurgents, Pakistan’s military said in a statement.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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