Roadside blast kills 13 in NW Pakistan

ISLAMABAD – A roadside bomb ripped through a vehicle carrying a wedding party in Pakistan’s northwestern valley of Swat on Friday, killing 13 people, officials said.

The vehicle was passing through Matta town when it was hit by the blast north of Mingora, the main town in Swat valley, where security forces have been battling Islamist militants for months, the officials said.

“Thirteen people have been killed and several others have been wounded, including women and children, in the blast,” said security official Major Aurangzeb.

More than 450 people have been killed in militant-related violence in Pakistan since the start of the year, which intensified after the army stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque to crush an armed student movement last July.

Many of the fatalities have been in the scenic Swat valley, until recently a tourist destination, where the military began an offensive in October to clear out al Qaeda-linked militants who had infiltrated from strongholds on the Afghan border.

Many al Qaeda and Taliban militants fled to Pakistan and took refuge in its lawless tribal area, after the U.S.-led military invasion toppled the Taliban regime in Afghanistan in late 2001.

Pakistani security forces have conducted several military operations in the region and hundreds of troops and militants have been killed in clashes and bombings.

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