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23 killed in Taliban attack on Pakistan army post

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Taliban militants wearing suicide vests fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at an army post in northwestern Pakistan in a predawn raid Saturday, killing 23 people, including 10 civilians, officials said.

Twelve attackers also were killed in the assault.

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The raid came a day after a suicide bombing at a Shi’ite Muslim mosque elsewhere in the northwest that killed 30 people, police said. The bombing at the mosque was the latest in a rising number of sectarian attacks in the country.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and sometimes targets the country’s minority Shi’ites.

The Taliban and allied militant groups have stepped up the pace of attacks in Pakistan in recent months, an indication of their strength despite numerous army operations against strongholds in the northwest.

The raid on the army post in Serai Naurang town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province began about 3:45 a.m. local time and lasted for several hours, said senior police officer Arif Khan Wazir. The militants fired automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.

Two security officials said that the 10 civilians killed included three women and three children in a nearby house. In addition to the civilians, nine soldiers and four members of the Frontier Constabulary, a force that polices parts of northwestern Pakistan were killed.

Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to Associated Press from an undisclosed location. He said four suicide bombers were involved. He said that three of them died and a fourth was still resisting as of his call at around 9:20 a.m. local time.

Ahsan said the attack was in retaliation for the recent deaths of two Taliban commanders in US drone strikes. He accused the Pakistani army of helping in those attacks. Pakistani officials often criticize drone operations as a violation of the country’s sovereignty, but are known to have assisted some past US strikes.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief the media, said he saw the bodies of three attackers with their suicide vests intact. Their features suggested they belonged to a group of Uzbek militants allied with the Taliban, he said.

He said other attackers detonated explosives during the battle with security forces — one inside the house where civilians were killed. He did not say if this led to civilian deaths.

The attack on the mosque Friday occurred in Hangu town, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The town has had past clashes between Sunni and Shi’ites.

Six people wounded in the bombing died on Saturday, raising the death toll to 30, said local official Tahir Zafar Abbasi.

Shi’ites in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who view them as heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in Pakistan’s history. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shi’ites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan last year.

The Taliban are battling Pakistan’s government because of its ties to the United States and because it wants to impose Islamic law. Pakistan’s military fought the Taliban in the semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border.

But one major area remains: North Waziristan, the main stronghold for Taliban and Al Qaeda militants in the country.

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