BAJAUR AGENCY – As many as 24 people including Levies Force Commandant and his deputy were killed and more than 40 others wounded when a suicide blast ripped through a crowded bazaar of Khar in Bajaur Agency Friday morning.

"The teen suicide bomber detonated his explosives as he approached near the post of Bajaur Levies Force where senior officials had gathered after routine patrolling," an official of the local administration told reporters.

"Two senior officials - Subedar Major Javed Khan, chief of Bajaur Levies Force and his deputy Subedar Fazale Rabbi were among the dead,” Islam Zeb, a political agent of the Agency told reporters after the blast. Fazale Rabi was a decorated soldier and was on the hit list of militants.

It is pertinent to mention here that Fazale Rabbi, 45, was awarded presidential medal for his bravery in operations to crush militancy. He was given extension in job due to his valuable services after retirement in 2007.

After the blast, local shopkeepers and Levies Force personnel started rescues work and recovered bodies and wounded from the debris. The bodies and injured were immediately shifted to the Agency Headquarters Hospital Khar while some of the critically wounded were rushed to Peshawar.

Islam Zeb said the target of the attack was Levies Force officials because they were under threat from the miscreants since long. "Apparently, the bomber was waiting for the head and deputy head of the Levies Force, and as the officials arrived at the checkpost, the bomber rushed towards them and blew himself off," Zeb said.

Condemning the attack, Zeb said “The miscreants do not want peace and stability in the region and the administration will never spare terrorists who were responsible for the attack. We will tackle these brutal persons killing innocent citizens with iron hands," he said.

He said the killing of all and particularly of two senior Levies officials were a big loss for the administration because they had contributed a lot to maintain peace in the region. “It was a huge blast as at least 10 people, including five officials of the Levies Force, were killed on the spot while several others, majority of them civilians, sustained critical injuries," an eye witness said. The blast sent a wave of panic in the market area and all shops and schools in the nearby areas were closed soon after the blast. A curfew was imposed in the area after the attack, trade centres, educational institutions and other public offices were shut down while the public transport was also halted.

Meanwhile, Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack. A spokesmen of TTP, Ihsnaullah Ihsan, in a phone call from an undisclosed location said TTP was behind the attack.

Agencies add: The Taliban claimed responsibility, saying it had wanted to kill the local chief and deputy of the tribal police force recruited by the government to help defeat the insurgency in the area.

The bomber who intelligence officials said was aged 14 to 16 detonated explosives strapped to his chest.

The military has conducted major offensives in Bajaur in 2008 and 2009 and has repeatedly declared it secure.

Friday's blast was the deadliest bombing in the country since February 17, when 31 people were killed by a suicide attack on Shia Muslims in the tribal district of Kurram.

Raids were later carried out in the surrounding areas of Khar and two men aged 17 and 18 were arrested and suicide jackets found, he said.

At least five policemen, including the local tribal police chief and his deputy, were among the dead and 46 people were wounded. Shops and a restaurant were destroyed.

"Our attacks will continue until (US) drone strikes end," Ehsan told AFP.

It was the third bomb attack in two days in Bajaur, after twin blasts killed five people -- including pro-government elders and security personnel -- on Thursday.

According to an AFP tally, around 5,000 people have been killed in attacks blamed on the Taliban and its allies since July 2007, when troops raided Red Mosque in Islamabad, sparking a bloody insurgency.