PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- A Taliban suicide bombing targeted the administrative headquarters of a tribal region in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, February 15,, killing three policemen and two passers-by, according to officials.
The explosion went off at the main gate of the tribal headquarters in Ghalanai in the Mohmand tribal region, just as the workday was about to start, said Hameedullah Khan, a local government official.
A breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban — Jamaat-ul-Ahrar or Freedom Movement — claimed the attack in a text message sent to The Associated Press.
Khan, whose office is inside the compound, said the grounds are home to residences, offices and training facilities for the local administration and police employees. Hundreds of local residents come daily on business to the tribal headquarters, located 45 kilometers outside Peshawar, the provincial capital.
The bombing was followed by gunshots, Khan added.
The Pakistani army said the bomber was accompanied by another militant, who tried to force his way into the compound after the explosion went off but that security guards opened fire and killed him.
The army statement said there was a higher level of vigilance among the local security forces following intelligence that would-be attackers had infiltrated the area from neighboring Afghanistan.
The same breakaway Taliban faction that said it was behind Wednesday's attack also had claimed another deadly suicide bombing, in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Monday — an attack that also targeted policemen.
The policemen were escorting a protest march in Lahore and that bombing killed 13 people, including seven policemen. A former chief of the province's counter-terrorism department was also among those killed.
The two suicide bombings reflect an uptick in militant attacks after an almost three-month lull.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar is based in the Mohmand area — part of rugged, lawless regions along the Afghan border which have long served as safe havens for local and al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants, who have killed tens of thousands of people in over a decade.
Pakistan has waged several offensives against militants in recent years, including a major operation that started in mid-2014 in the last key insurgent sanctuary of North Waziristan.
The authorities declared the offensive a success, saying it uprooted militants, killed hundreds and forced many to flee across the border into Afghanistan. Others went into hiding in Pakistani urban areas where they have a vast support network of seminaries and religious groups. A US drone campaign also helped the offensive by targeting the Taliban.
In late 2014, a leadership crisis fractured the Pakistani Taliban movement — which is separate from the Afghan Taliban — and splintered it into various groups.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar last carried out a string of large-scale attacks in late 2016, after Washington declared it a terrorist organization. The group is led by militant known as Omar Khaled Khorasani, whose real name is Abdul Wali Khan.
A former Pakistani Taliban spokesman, Ehsanullah Ehsan, is a key commander in Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has links with several Pakistani militant and sectarian groups. It has also expressed support for Islamic State group. (AP)