By RIAZ KHAN
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — Suspected militants bombed a van carrying prisoners in northwest Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least nine people, as fighting between security forces and extremists flared across the tribal belt.
The violence came just over a week after longtime U.S. ally Pervez Musharraf resigned as president, triggering a scramble for power that collapsed Pakistan's governing coalition.
The party long led by slain former Prime Minister Bena zir Bhutto is now in a position to dominate the government and it is toughening its stance against Islamist extremists.
The Pakistani Taliban, meanwhile, are becoming increasingly bold, claiming responsibility for a wave of suicide bombings and gun attacks.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack Thursday, though police said militants were the likely culprit. It happened as a van carrying prisoners crossed a bridge in Bannu, a town in the North West Frontier Province, said Waqas Ahmad, an area police chief.
The dead included police officers and prisoners, said Jalil Khan, another police official. But he could not provide an exact breakdown.
Hours earlier, security forces drove off a Taliban attack on a fort and pounded another band of militants holed up in a health center, officials said Wednesday as fighting spread to new areas in the tribal belt along the Afghan border.
As many as 49 insurgents were reported killed in separate attacks.
Pakistan's 5-month-old government initially sought to calm militant violence by holding peace talks.
But the initiatives have borne little fruit, and U.S. officials have been pressing for tougher action against insurgent groups blamed for rising violence across the border in Afghanistan and in cities further inland.
Associated Press writers Zarar Khan in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.