Video: Blast rocks divided Kashmir region

updated 6/26/2009 6:29:10 AM ET 2009-06-26T10:29:10

A suicide bomber blew himself up early Friday near an army vehicle, killing at least two soldiers in the first such assault in Pakistan's part of divided Kashmir, the military said, marking a possible escalation in the militant campaign against security forces.

The attack took place in Muzaffarabad, the region's capital. The military said in a statement three other soldiers were wounded and rushed to a nearby hospital.

Although Pakistan has witnessed scores of such attacks in recent months, Friday's blast was the first in its portion of Kashmir, which is divided between Pakistan and archrival India. Both nations claim the mountainous region in its entirety.

For the past 20 years, India has accused Pakistan of harboring Islamic militants in the region and helping them sneak across the boundary into its part of the Himalayan enclave to launch attacks on Indian security forces — although Pakistan has always denied giving anything more than moral and diplomatic support to the rebels.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for Friday's attack, but it could signal that Taliban militants facing Pakistani army offensives in the northwest of the country are prepared to retaliate against Pakistani forces in Kashmir as well.

Also Friday, a roadside bomb exploded near a military convoy near Miran Shah, the main town in the troubled region of North Waziristan, killing three soldiers and one passerby, two local intelligence officials said. Fifteen soldiers and two civilians were also injured in the blast. The officials spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to media.

Lawless tribal belt
North Waziristan is part of the rugged, lawless tribal belt along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan and a Taliban stronghold.

The violence comes as the Pakistani military winds down its offensive against militants in the northwestern Swat Valley and gears up for another operation against Taliban leaders in South Waziristan.

Government troops have pounded suspected militant hide-outs in the region for more than a week with bombs and artillery as the army softens up targets in apparent preparation for a ground offensive aimed at eliminating Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

Mehsud has directed a string of bloody bombings across the country in recent weeks in retaliation against the government operations, and the suicide attack in Pakistani Kashmir could mark an extension of his campaign against the government's security forces to a strategically sensitive area.

"In the past two months, each side has been raising the stakes," said Ishtiaq Ahmad, an expert on terrorism and regional security at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad. "Battles lines are increasingly being drawn now, and the physical extermination of the enemy has been clearly outlined."

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