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Mystery blast kills 8 at Pakistan militant base

An explosion wrecked a militant compound in Pakistan on Monday, killing as many as eight people while paramilitary forces pushed deeper into a region where extremists threaten the city of Peshawar .
APTOPIX Pakistan Operation
A Pakistani man visits a house destroyed by government forces in Qambarkhel in Pakistan's tribal area of Khyber on Monday.Mohammad Sajjad / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An explosion wrecked a militant compound Monday, killing as many as eight people while Pakistani paramilitary forces pushed deeper into a border region where extremists threaten the city of Peshawar and a key supply line for U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Pro-Taliban militants targeted by the offensive in the Khyber tribal area claimed a missile was fired from nearby Afghanistan, but a Pentagon official said he knew of no cross-border attack and a Pakistani officer said stored explosives blew up.

The nighttime blast, which buried bodies in piles of shattered masonry and mud bricks, came at the start of the third day of an offensive by Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Corps.

Troops faced no resistance
Troops faced no resistance Monday and were able to occupy key hilltops and re-establish checkpoints that had been abandoned by tribal police, said a senior Frontier Corps officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment to journalists.

He said troops in the Bara area, which starts on the outskirts of Peshawar, advanced in the direction of the remote Teerah valley. But it remained unclear if the Frontier Corps planned to push into the valley, where militants are thought to have fled.

So far, the Frontier Corps reported destroying several militant posts, including a radio station and alleged torture cells, but claimed to have killed just one insurgent.

The Interior Ministry said the operation was launched to protect Peshawar from "law breakers and militant groups" and would continue until "all the objectives are achieved." It has outlawed three armed Islamic groups operating in the region.

The show of force — expected to last several more days — comes amid U.S. concern that the newly elected government's effort to negotiate peace deals with militants has given Taliban and al-Qaida-linked extremists more space to operate along the lawless border.

The U.S. military has reported a 40 percent surge in attacks recently on its forces in eastern Afghanistan, which borders Pakistan's tribal region.

A senior State Department official, Richard Boucher, began a three-day visit to Islamabad on Monday by meeting with government leaders.

Public support for offensive
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani told Boucher the government is negotiating only with groups willing to lay down weapons, a statement from his office said. The prime minister also said the government had received much public support for the military offensive.

In Washington, a Pentagon official said the U.S. military was monitoring the Frontier Corps offensive to assess how significant and effective it proves to be.

"We'll have to see. The fact that something is being done is a step in the right direction," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak about the issue on the record.

There was no sign the offensive would be widened to take on Pakistan's top militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, who is based in the Waziristan region south of Khyber. Mehsud has said he was suspending talks between his allies and the government in response to the operation in Khyber.

The political administration of Khyber denied Pakistani forces were behind the explosion that destroyed the militant compound in Bar Qambarkhel, a village about 25 miles from the Afghan border.

Officials said at least five people were killed and three were injured. Villager Nawaz Khan Afridi said he saw eight bodies. Haji Namdar, leader of the militant Vice and Virtue Movement, whose supporter apparently owned the compound, said six people were killed.

'Jews and Christians did it'
Namdar vowed revenge.

"We do not know if our country Pakistan is involved, but our claim is on America," Namdar told Geo TV after a funeral for some of the dead. "We do not know from where it was carried out, but we claim that Jews and Christians did it."

A spokesman for Namdar's group, Munsif Khan, said a missile fired from Afghanistan might have caused the damage. "Our friends saw a flash of light coming from the direction of Afghanistan" before the blast, he said.

The Pentagon official said he was unaware of any missile launches into Pakistan from Afghanistan.

Fazal Hussain, an explosives expert in the Frontier Corps who visited the blast site, said a missile would have left a hole in the roof of the building and in the ground but that he saw no evidence of that. He said explosives stored in the building must have detonated.

U.S. missile strikes have periodically targeted militants in Pakistan's tribal areas, drawing rebukes from the Pakistani government and angering a public already resentful of the alliance with Washington in its war on terrorist groups.