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QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide attack on a polio vaccination center in southwestern Pakistan on Wednesday killed 15 people, mainly policemen gathered to escort health workers, officials said. It was the latest attack on the vaccination campaign and health workers have been repeatedly targeted in recent years by Islamic militants.
The bombing on the outskirts of the city Quetta killed 13 policemen, a soldier and a civilian, said Shahzada Farhat, a police spokesman. He said 23 people were wounded.
The suicide bomber detonated his explosives among the police officers, said provincial home minister Sarfraz Bugti. "We're in a war zone," he added.
The bombing happened outside the polio center shortly before vaccination teams were due to be dispatched to local neighborhoods as part of a three-day immunization campaign, said Syed Imtiaz Shah, the local police chief.
Hours after the attack, Ahmad Marwat, who described himself as a spokesman for Jundullah, or Army of God, a little-known militant group, claimed responsibility for the assault, without explaining why the center was targeted. He warned of more attacks on polio teams in the future.
Polio workers in Pakistan, and their police escorts, have been targeted in recent years by Islamic militants who accuse them of working as spies for the United States.
The attacks intensified after a Pakistani doctor was arrested on charges of running a fake hepatitis vaccination campaign in the city of Abbottabad as a cover for a CIA-backed effort to obtain DNA samples from Osama bin Laden ahead of the 2011 U.S. raid that killed him.
Pakistan is one of three countries in the world where polio is endemic, and the attacks have hindered vaccination campaigns. Some Pakistanis are also suspicious about the vaccinations, fearing it will sterilize their children.
Shah, the police chief, said the security forces were the primary target of Wednesday's attack. He spoke to reporters from the scene, which was strewn with blood and debris, as rescuers took the wounded to hospitals.
Quetta is the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, where a low-level insurgency has long been waged by Baloch separatist groups demanding a greater share of the region's natural resources or outright independence.
Al-Qaida, the Taliban and other Sunni militant groups are also active in the region. Tens of thousands have been killed in Pakistan over the past decade in attacks mainly targeting security forces and the country's Shiite minority.
Meanwhile, an unidentified man threw a firecracker at Pakistan's independent ARY news channel in Islamabad on Wednesday, wounding an employee.
ARY said the attacker fled but left behind a leaflet purportedly from the Islamic State group, warning of more attacks against media that broadcast what it said were army's biased claims in operations against militants.
Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.
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