A Pakistani Taliban suicide bomber rammed a car filled with explosives into a paramilitary camp in northwestern Pakistan on Saturday, killing six soldiers in the second attack in as many days meant to avenge the slaying of a senior commander in a U.S. drone strike.
The attacks came as Pakistan was gripped by tension between the army and the civilian government over a secret memo sent to Washington earlier this year asking for help in reining in the military. Pakistan's prime minister sought to dial down the conflict Saturday, days after he set off alarm with a warning of a potential coup.
The bombing against the Frontier Corps camp in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Bannu town caused part of a building to collapse and wounded at least 19 soldiers, said local police officer Tahir Khan.
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to The Associated Press. He said it was meant to avenge the death of commander Taj Gul in a U.S. drone strike in October in the South Waziristan tribal area, a key sanctuary for the militants.
Gul was the Pakistani Taliban's operational commander in South Waziristan and was responsible for many attacks against security forces.
On Friday, around three dozen Pakistani Taliban fighters armed with assault rifles attacked a paramilitary camp in Tank district near South Waziristan before dawn, killing one soldier and kidnapping 15 others.
Ehsan, the Taliban spokesman, said Friday that attack was also meant to avenge Gul's death. The militants targeted the soldiers because of Pakistan's alliance with the United States, he said.
Ehsan pledged they would kill the kidnapped troops, saying "we are going to cut these soldiers into pieces one by one, and we will send these pieces to their commanders."
The Pakistani Taliban has waged a fierce insurgency in Pakistan over the past four years, killing tens of thousands of security personnel and civilians. Their aim is to topple the civilian government, partly because of its alliance with the U.S., and impose Islamic law throughout the country.
Pakistan has launched a series of military offensives against the Pakistani Taliban in the northwest along the Afghan border, including in South Waziristan.
Analysts say the operations, combined with hundreds of U.S. drone attacks, have contributed to a significant decline in violence in Pakistan this year. But militants still carry out attacks almost daily that have killed more than 2,300 people through November, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.
The current political crisis in Pakistan threatens to distract the military from its fight against the militants.
The scandal centers around a memo that was allegedly sent to a senior U.S. military official in May by Pakistan's ambassador to the U.S. at the time, Husain Haqqani, asking for help in averting a supposed army coup in the wake of the American raid that killed Osama bin Laden.
Haqqani has denied the allegations but resigned in the wake of the scandal. Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari has also denied claims that he was connected to the memo.
Tension spiked this past week when Pakistan's Supreme Court opened a hearing into the scandal and demanded the president submit a response, which he has so far failed to do. The government has claimed there is no need for a judicial investigation since parliament is looking into the matter.
Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani set pulses racing Thursday when he claimed there was a conspiracy under way to oust the government. He did not specifically point to the military, but he did say the army must be answerable to parliament and cannot act as a "state within a state."
Army chief Gen. Pervez Ashfaq Kayani dismissed the prime minister's allegations Friday, saying the military had no intention of staging a coup and would respect the constitution.
Gilani welcomed Kayani's comments Saturday, saying "the clarification from the army chief yesterday is extremely well-taken in the democratic circles."
"It will certainly improve the situation," Gilani told reporters in Islamabad.
Analysts have speculated that the army may try to force Zardari out of office over the memo scandal, rather than actually stage a coup.
Kayani said Friday that talk of a military takeover was a distraction from "real issues," a comment perceived by some to apply to the president's alleged role in the scandal.
Mahsud reported from Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Asif Shahzad contributed to this report from Islamabad.