CORRECTED – WRAPUP 11-Bomb kills 54 in Pakistan, Taliban threatens U.S.

(Corrects reference to Pakistani people in third paragraph)

* Taliban threaten attacks in United States, Europe

* Floods likely to delay offensives against Taliban

* Two US missile strikes in Waziristan kill 7 militants
(Adds White House condemnation, U.S. counterterrorism
official, State Department)

By Saud Mehsud

QUETTA, Pakistan, Sept 3 (BestGrowthStock) – A suicide bomber
struck a rally in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday,
killing at least 54 people in the second major attack this week
and piling pressure on a U.S.-backed government overwhelmed by
a flood crisis.

Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast and
said it would launch attacks in the United States and Europe
“very soon” — repeating a threat to strike Western targets in
response to drone attacks that have targeted its leadership.

In Washington, the White House condemned the Quetta attack
on a Shi’ite rally and expressed solidarity with the Pakistani
people, saying it was “even more reprehensible” because it came
during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Pakistan reels from
disastrous flooding.

A U.S. counterterrorism official said the threat by the al
Qaeda-linked Taliban against the United States and Europe could
not be discounted.

The attack came just two days after Washington added the
Pakistani Taliban to its list of “foreign terrorist
organizations” and charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, with
plotting a bombing that killed seven CIA agents at a U.S. base
in Afghanistan last December.

In Quetta, dozens of dead and wounded people lay in pools
of blood as fires engulfed vehicles. Senior police official
Hamid Shakeel told Reuters at least 54 people were killed and
about 160 wounded.

Hours later, the Taliban said the bombing was revenge for
the killing of radical Sunni clerics by Shi’ites, further
challenging Pakistan’s unpopular civilian government.

“We take pride in taking responsibility for the Quetta
attack,” Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban and
mentor of suicide bombers, told Reuters.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban also claimed responsibility
for bombings on Wednesday at a Shi’ite procession in the
eastern city of Lahore in which at least 33 people died.

Those blasts were the first major attack since the worst
floods in Pakistan’s history began more than a month ago. The
Taliban and its allies often target religious minorities in a
campaign to destabilize the government.

ATTACK THREAT

Aside from its battles against homegrown Taliban, Pakistan
is under intense American pressure to tackle Afghan Taliban
fighters who cross the border into Pakistan’s lawless tribal
areas to attack U.S.-led NATO troops.

The United States has stepped up missile strikes by
pilotless drone aircraft against militant targets in Pakistan’s
Pashtun tribal lands since the start of 2010.

On Friday, U.S. drones fired missiles at two targets in the
North Waziristan tribal region, killing seven militants,
including two foreigners, intelligence officials said.

Pakistan’s Taliban has responded to drone attacks by saying
it would strike Western targets.

“We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon,”
Mehsud told Reuters by telephone on Friday from an undisclosed
location.

The group claimed responsibility for a failed bomb plot in
New York’s Times Square in May and, in December 2009, a Spanish
court jailed 10 Pakistanis and an Indian for attempted suicide
bombings on Barcelona’s metro in 2008, saying they were
inspired by the Pakistan Taliban’s then leader.

“No one is discounting the threat they pose and we and our
partners are working hard to disrupt their terrorist
activities,” a U.S. counterterrorism official said on condition
of anonymity.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the group
was designated a “foreign terrorist organization” because “it
is a threat to the United States but most importantly a threat
to Pakistan itself.”

Pakistan has said the army would decide when to carry out a
full-fledged assault in North Waziristan, where Washington says
the militants enjoy safe havens.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, visiting troops in
Afghanistan, said the flooding “is probably going to delay any
operations by the Pakistani army in North Waziristan for some
period of time.”

In another attack in the northwest, a suicide bomber killed
one person outside a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, who consider
themselves Muslims but whom Pakistan declares non-Muslims.

ECONOMIC CRISIS

Islamist charities, some linked to militant groups, have
joined in the relief effort for the millions of people affected
by the floods. U.S. officials are concerned the involvement of
hardline groups in relief work will undermine the fight against
militancy.

Anger is spreading over the Pakistani government’s sluggish
response to the disaster, raising the possibility of unrest.

Pakistan is also facing economic catastrophe, with the
floods causing damage the government has estimated at $43
billion, almost a quarter of the south Asian nation’s 2009
gross domestic product.

The International Monetary Fund will give Pakistan $450
million in emergency flood aid and disburse funds in September
to help the economy cope with the devastation.

Talks in Washington with a delegation led by Pakistan’s
Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on the terms of an $11
billion IMF loan program left him satisfied with the country’s
commitment to reforms, IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn said.

Under the 2008 IMF loan program, Islamabad promised to
implement tax and energy sector reforms and give full autonomy
to the State Bank of Pakistan.
(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud, Haji Mujtaba, Zeeshan
Haider and Augustine Anthony; and Tabassum Zakaria, Steve
Holland and Andrew Quinn in Washington: Writing by Michael
Georgy; editing by Jon Boyle and John O’Callaghan)
(For more Reuters coverage of Pakistan, see:
http://www.reuters.com/places/pakistan)

CORRECTED – WRAPUP 11-Bomb kills 54 in Pakistan, Taliban threatens U.S.