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Saturday, September 19th, 2020

15 Dead in NATO tanker fire in Pakistan

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Peshawar: A bomb attack Saturday on a NATO fuel tanker headed to Afghanistan sparked a huge fire that killed 15 people who had rushed to collect petrol leaking from the bombed-out vehicle.

Those killed in the attack near Landi Kotal town in the lawless north-western Pakistan tribal region of Khyber were all civilians, nine of them from the same family, local administration official Shafeerullah Wazir told AFP.

Earlier, 11 other NATO supply vehicles, “most of them oil tankers” were destroyed at a terminal in nearby Torkham town, another administration official, Iqbal Khattak, said, but there were no casualties.

The vehicles caught fire after a remote-controlled device was detonated under one of them around midnight, Khattak said, adding that he believed the Torkham and Landi Kotal attacks were coordinated. On Friday the Taliban bombed a US consulate convoy in Peshawar, killing one person and wounding 11 others in the first such attack on Americans in Pakistan since Osama bin Laden’s death on May 2.

Wazir said the tanker in the Landi Kotal attack caught fire after a small bomb blast and villagers rushed to collect fuel leaking from the wreckage when the blaze was put out.

“Suddenly the fire erupted again and at least 15 people including five young boys who had been collecting oil in their buckets were burnt to death,” he said.

Four people with severe burn injuries were receiving treatment in a local hospital, he said.

The dead included a nine-year-old child and other victims aged between 18 and 30, local official Nabi Khan told AFP.

They were collecting petrol to be sold later in the open market where one litre fetches around 100 rupees (about 1.2 dollars), he said.

Although supply lines were suspended for a few hours after the attacks “traffic is normal now,” Khattak said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attacks but the Taliban have admitted to carrying out similar actions in the past and did so on Friday after the Peshawar bombing.

A US embassy spokesman said two American government employees were slightly wounded in the rush-hour attack in the volatile north-western city, which runs into the tribal belt that Washington has branded an Al-Qaeda headquarters.

The Pakistani Taliban also threatened further attacks against Western targets in telephone calls to AFP and indicated that the blast was to avenge the killing of bin Laden by US Navy SEALs in raid north of Islamabad almost three weeks ago.

The United States leads a NATO force of around 130,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan that is trying to put down a 10-year Taliban insurgency. Pakistani logistical and military support is considered vital to the war effort.

Most supplies and equipment required by foreign troops in Afghanistan are shipped through Pakistan. Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants frequently launch attacks across north-western Pakistan and the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border. Under US pressure to crack down on Islamist havens on the border, Pakistan has in the past two years stepped up military operations against largely homegrown militants in the tribal regions, but the discovery that bin Laden had been hiding out in the garrison city of Abbottabad has raised eyebrows.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the Arabian Sea port in Karachi late on Saturday for two-day protest called by Pakistani opposition leader and former cricketer Imran Khan against US drone strikes in the tribal belt.

“We’ll sit outside the port’s gate from Saturday afternoon to Sunday evening continuously to block the trucks carrying NATO supplies,” he said.

The local tanker association has announced it will join the sit-in protest.

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