PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Militants attacked an army post in northwestern Pakistan with automatic weapons, rocket-propelled grenades and suicide vests before dawn on Saturday, killing 23 people including 10 civilians, officials said. Twelve attackers were also reported killed in the assault.
The raid followed a suicide bombing at a Shiite Muslim mosque elsewhere in the northwest on Friday that killed 24 people, police said. It was the latest in a rising number of sectarian attacks in the country.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for both attacks. The group has been waging a bloody insurgency against the government for years and also has sometimes targeted country's minority Shiite sect.
The raid on the army post in Serai Naurang town of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province began around 3:45 a.m. local time and lasted for several hours, said senior police officer Arif Khan Wazir. The militants were armed with automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, he said.
Nine soldiers and four members of the Frontier Constabulary, a force that polices parts of northwestern Pakistan, died during the battle, two security officials said. They said 12 attackers were also killed. Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
They say militants killed 10 civilians in a nearby house, including three women and three children.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location. He said four suicide bombers were involved in the attack. He said that three of them were killed and the fourth was still resisting as of his call at around 9:20 a.m. local time (4:20 a.m. GMT).
Ahsan said the attack was retaliation for the recent deaths of two Taliban commanders in U.S. drone strikes. He accused the Pakistani army of helping with the attacks. Pakistani officials often criticize drone operations as a violation of the country's sovereignty, but are known to have assisted some U.S. strikes in the past.
A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of sensitivity of the matter, said he saw the bodies of three attackers with their suicide vests intact. Their features suggested they belonged to a group of Uzbek militants allied with the Taliban, he said.
He said other attackers detonated their explosives during the battle with the security forces — one inside the house where civilians were the killed. He did not say if this caused the civilian deaths.
The attack on the mosque Friday took place in Hangu town, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The town has experienced previous clashes between the Sunni and Shiite communities that live there.
Shiites in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in the country's history. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in 2012.
Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan, Pakistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.