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Sixteen killed in NATO fuel truck blast in Pakistan

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LANDIKOTAL, Pakistan (Reuters) – At least 16 people were killed in northwest Pakistan on Saturday after a bomb attack claimed by a militant group hit a truck carrying fuel supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, the latest attack in an upsurge in violence since Osama bin Laden was killed.

It took place near the Torkham border crossing in the Khyber region, the main route for moving supplies to NATO and American forces in Afghanistan.

"The tanker was on fire because of a blast late in t

he night. There was another blast early in the morning in the same tanker and 16 people who gathered near it to collect oil were killed," a senior local administration official in Khyber told Reuters.

Police officials said the first blast was caused by a bomb.

In another attack in the same region, a bomb struck 16 NATO fuel trucks late on Friday, setting them on fire. No one was hurt.

Militants have stepped up attacks in Pakistan, an unstable U.S. ally, since U.S. special forces killed al Qaeda leader bin Laden in the garrison town of Abbottabad this month.

Abdullah Azzam Brigade, a militant group affiliated with Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for both attacks on the NATO trucks.

"It is our jihad against Americans. We want to stop supplies for NATO from our territory," Abu Musa'ab, a spokesman for the group, told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

Residents of Landikotal stood looking at 15 wooden coffins holding the victims. Nearby a truck that was hit by the bomb was burned out and gutted.

The attacks on the NATO trucks in Khyber came hours after the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for a bomb attack on a U.S. consulate convoy in the city of Peshawar.

One Pakistani was killed and 12 people were injured, including two lightly wounded U.S. nationals.

Routes through Pakistan bring in 40 percent of supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan, according to the United States Transportation Command. Of the remainder, 40 percent come through Afghanistan's neighbors in the north and 20 percent by air.

The Pakistani Taliban are pressing ahead with their campaign of suicide bombings designed to de-stabilize the unpopular government, despite several army offensives against their strongholds along the lawless border region with Afghanistan.

Eight suspected militants were killed on Saturday when army gunship helicopters attacked their hideouts in Orakzai region, adjoining Khyber, local officials said.

(Additional reporting by Izaz Mohmand and Fayaz Aziz; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Michael Georgy and Alex Richardson)

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