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Bin Laden revenge attack rattles Pakistan

Soldiers of the Pakistan army at the bombing site in Shabqadar near Peshawar, Pakistan on Friday, May 13, 2011. A police officer says the death toll in a pair of explosions outside a security force training center in northwest Pakistan has risen to 80. Liaqat Ali Khan says 66 victims in the attack Friday were recruits for the Frontier Corps. The attack is the bloodiest in Pakistan since the U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida chief on May 2. Ahsanullah Ahsan, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, has said the attack was in retaliation for bin Laden's death

Mohammad Sajjad/AP

Reeling from the political fallout of Osama bin Laden's death and a twin bombing that killed dozens of security officers on Friday, Pakistan's powerful intelligence chief offered his resignation during a raucous joint session of Parliament that stretched past midnight.

As legislators straggled out of their secret meeting early Saturday morning, it appeared that none of them wanted to accept the offer from Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shuja Pasha to step down from his post as Director-General of Inter-Services Intelligence, one of the most influential jobs in the country.

The parliamentarians issued a joint resolution, however, that strayed into a domain usually reserved for Pakistan's secretive military and intelligence leadership, calling for a halt to U.S drone strikes in the tribal areas.

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"Unilateral action cannot advance the global cause against terrorism," Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said, reading from the statement, adding that any such actions "will merit a strong response."

The statement warned that Pakistan could shut off transit routes for NATO supplies into Afghanistan in response to future drone strikes. An opposition leader even speculated that Pakistan might shoot down the unmanned Predator aircraft that regularly patrol the badlands searching for terrorists.

Pakistani politicians have publicly railed against the drone campaign in the past, while privately endorsing the strikes; it's not clear whether the resolution will stop the program that has escalated dramatically under the Obama administration.

Drones targeted suspected militants at least three times in the days after Mr. bin Laden's death. The Taliban claimed they struck back with a double bombing to avenge the al-Qaeda leader's death on Friday, as suicide bombers hit a crowd of paramilitary recruits going home for vacation.

At least 80 people were killed and about 120 injured on a busy street outside the training centre in Shabqadar, almost 200 kilometres northwest of Islamabad.

Many analysts interpreted the bombings as the start of al-Qaeda's efforts to reassert its power, and anticipated more attacks in the coming weeks.

"Everybody is anxious," said Major-General Jamshed Ayaz Khan, a retired officer. "We have to be prepared for an even more violent backlash."

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Some reports from the scene played down the al-Qaeda connection, despite a statement of responsibility from Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, a Taliban affiliate with links to international terrorism.

Liaqat Ali Khan, a local police official, told journalists at the blast site that Pakistani forces have recently mounted a major offensive in nearby Mohmand Agency, one of the dangerous tribal areas where the state lacks full control. He suggested that the bombings were likely a response to what he described as a successful operation against local militants.

"This could be a reaction to Osama, but there's very little possibility," Mr. Khan said.

The death of Mr. bin Laden will now become the subject of a parliamentary commission, according to reports emerging from the closed-door session early Saturday morning. It's not clear whether the announcement will satisfy the country's most powerful opposition figure, Nawaz Sharif, who earlier demanded a judicial inquiry.

The military has already started its own investigation of the Abbottabad raid, where Mr. bin Laden was killed, but parliamentarians reportedly expressed skepticism during the closed-door session about the military's ability to investigate itself.

Leaks from the session, broadcast on several news channels, suggested that Lt.-Gen. Pasha had offered a spirited defence of his agency, while at the same time apologizing for the intelligence lapses that led to the Abbottabad incident.

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One commenter noted the vagueness of the intelligence chief's mea culpa, saying it wasn't clear whether he regretted the terrorist hiding out in Pakistan or the American commando team that killed him.

"Pasha's apology comes as a huge shock, but what is it for?" said a posting on Twitter. "The U.S. intrusion or Osama bin Laden's presence?"

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