Pakistani army camp struck by bombing

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomber linked to the Pakistani Taliban attacked soldiers during morning exercises at an army training camp in the northwest Thursday, killing 31 troops and wounding 42 others.

There were conflicting accounts about the identity of the bomber. The army and police said he was a teenager in a school uniform, but the Pakistani Taliban claimed he was a soldier at the camp in Mardan town who volunteered for the attack.

The bombing showed that despite years of army operations against their hideouts along Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, Taliban and al-Qaida-linked fighters retain the ability to strike back. It was one of the worst attacks on security forces in recent months.

Senior police official Samad Khan said 31 soldiers died and 42 were wounded, some critically. All of those killed were cadets except for one, who was a drill instructor, said the army.

An examination of the body parts at the scene indicated the bomber was a teenage boy, which is a common finding in suicide bombings in Pakistan, said Khan. The army also said he was a teenager in a school uniform. The training camp area holds several army-run schools.

Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan disputed the government's account in a phone call to the Associated Press, saying the bomber was a soldier in Mardan who approached them and said "he wanted to sacrifice his life for Islam."

"We accepted his offer and told him to target his fellow soldiers in Mardan," said Ahsan.

Former army soldiers have been suspected in attacks in Pakistan, but a suicide bombing by an active-duty soldier would be rare, if not unheard of.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the suicide bombing and was appalled by the report that a child might have been used to commit the act, his spokesman Martin Nesirky said. Ban extended his condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Pakistan, the spokesman added.

Troops quickly cordoned off the area after the bombing and even police had a difficult time getting through. The same training facility was attacked by a suicide bomber in 2006 who killed 35 soldiers.

The army has staged multiple offensives in Pakistan's northwest aimed at taking out the Pakistani Taliban in recent years.