Reporting from Islamabad and Peshawar, Pakistan —
A powerful suicide bomb blast Tuesday tore through a police compound in the northwestern Pakistani town of Kohat, killing at least 14 people, the latest in a string of attacks carried out by Islamic militants as the government and security forces are struggling to cope with this summer's catastrophic floods.
The bombing in Kohat, situated between Taliban strongholds in Pakistan's tribal areas and the volatile city of Peshawar, was the fourth such strike in the country in a week. At least 102 people died in those blasts.
The Pakistani Taliban, the country's homegrown insurgency closely allied with the Afghan Taliban and Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the three previous attacks in the eastern city of Lahore, the southern city of Quetta and the northwestern town of Lakki Marwat, on the fringe of the tribal belt.
The explosions last week in Lahore and Quetta were directed at large gatherings of the Shiite Muslim community, a frequent target of attacks by primarily Sunni militants. A police station was the target in the suicide car bombing Monday in Lakki Marwat; at least two children who had been on their way to school were among the dead.
In the attack Tuesday, a suicide bomber rammed his pickup truck into the main gate of the police compound, which included a training center and housing for officers, said Bashir Bilour, leader of the ruling party in the northwest province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The blast leveled several buildings, trapping many victims under piles of rubble.
Kohat's administrative chief, Khalid Khan, said the explosion killed 14 people and injured 66.
"The majority of the injured people are women and children," said Mohammed Waseem, a hospital official. "Some of the wounded have been sent to Peshawar because our hospital doesn't have the capacity to handle such a large number of casualties."
Residents said efforts to rescue survivors from the debris were hampered by a power shutdown in the area and a lack of heavy machinery.
"I've never seen such a scale of destruction in my life," said Muhammad Sami, a Kohat resident. "People are digging with shovels and their hands to rescue people trapped in the rubble."
Militants last struck Kohat in April, when two suicide bombers disguised in burkas attacked refugees who had lined up for food and other relief supplies. That attack killed 41 people.
Taliban insurgents appear to be exploiting the country's vulnerability at a time when the military and police are preoccupied with providing relief to millions of Pakistanis devastated by massive floods that submerged an area about the size of England and destroyed more than 1.2 million homes.
The international community has pledged $330 million of the $460 million in disaster relief that the United Nations appealed for when the floods began in late July. U.N. officials say the pace of flood assistance has slowed, and they are expected soon to double their request for aid.
Rodriguez reported from Islamabad and special correspondent Ali from Peshawar.