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Page last updated at 18:00 GMT, Monday, 2 November 2009

Pakistan takes Taliban stronghold

Damaged car at the police checkpoint on the outskirts of Lahore
The Lahore suicide bombers injured at least seven people

Pakistani forces say they have seized control of the town of Kaniguram in South Waziristan, one of the Taliban's key regional strongholds.

The army said it had full control of the town, the latest capture in an offensive against militants that began in South Waziristan on 17 October.

The offensive has sparked a string of suicide bomb attacks.

About 35 people were killed in an attack in Rawalpindi and seven were injured on the outskirts of Lahore.

Rewards offered

Military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas, in the capital Islamabad, said that the Kaniguram area had been "completely cleared of terrorists".

He said that troops had cleared the area of both mines and improvised explosive devices after carrying out house-to-house searches.

"We have recovered five truck-loads of ammunition, arms and explosives," he said.

The town was thought to have been home to hundreds of Uzbek militants, led by the hardline Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Encircled by mountains, it also hosts substantial numbers of militants loyal to the Pakistani Taliban, led by Hakimullah Mehsud.

Earlier in the offensive, the military captured his birthplace, the town of Kotkai.

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Two bombers on a motorbike blew themselves up on a busy Rawalpindi street

Pakistan's government has offered rewards totalling $5m (£3m) for information leading to the capture of Hakimullah Mehsud, two other Taliban leaders and 15 commanders.

In a front-page advertisement in Pakistan's daily, The News, the largest sum of $600,000 was promised for the capture - dead or alive - of Hakimullah Mehsud.

It said his Tehrik-e-Taliban group was involved in acts of terrorism that were causing the death of innocent Muslims on a daily basis.

'Completely destroyed'

In Rawalpindi, police said two bombers mounted on a motorbike blew themselves up in a busy street, near a bank where people were queuing for their salaries. At least 30 people died and some 60 were injured.

AT THE SCENE
Orla Guerin
Orla Guerin, BBC News, Rawalpindi

Local people said the area was absolutely packed with people at the time the explosion took place. One man came rushing to search for his father who had been going to pick up his pension. That man has not yet been found. His son said he was making a direct appeal to the government: Please, save our lives.

Pakistan has been hit by what feels like a relentless wave of attacks. In spite of the fact the army is conducting a massive assault on Taliban territory in South Waziristan, it is clear the militants have retained the capacity to strike.

There is a real sense here of being under siege, of being vulnerable. There is a great deal of anxiety and also frustration with the government that the streets cannot be made safer.

The blast took place in a car park behind the four-star Shalimar hotel, next to a branch of the National Bank of Pakistan.

Police Supt Rana Shahid told BBC Urdu: "The men were probably wearing explosive jackets and the bike was definitely packed with material as well. That was why the explosion was so powerful."

One survivor, Rizwan Mehmood, said he had come to the bank to pay a traffic fine when the explosion went off.

"Just before the blast I saw a woman with three children in a vehicle in the car park," he said.

"After the blast, I saw the car they were sitting in, and it was completely destroyed."

Raja Sher Ali, a marketing manager in a local company, told AFP: "Our building shook as if in an earthquake and when we came out there was smoke everywhere and body parts were thrown into our office."

Another man, Mohammad Saleem, said he had left his child in his car while he went into the bank to collect his salary.

RECENT MILITANT ATTACKS

"I ran out from the building... and saw so many dead bodies," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"Now they're not giving me permission to go and look, and I don't know where my child is."

The blast struck just half a kilometre from Pakistan's army headquarters, where militants carried out a deadly attack last month that claimed nearly two dozen lives.

Later, on the outskirts of Lahore two bombers detonated explosives in a car they drove to a police checkpoint. Several police were among the injured.

About 300 people have been killed in attacks since mid-October.

Last week, more than 100 people were killed when a huge car bomb ripped through a busy market in Peshawar.

The ongoing violence led the United Nations to announce on Monday that it was withdrawing international staff from north-west Pakistan.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that the decision had been taken "bearing in mind the intense security situation in the region".

Map showing location of South Waziristan



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