A suicide bomber detonated a car in an alley behind a police station in a strategically vital town in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 19 police and civilians and injured 40 others in an explosion that shattered the station and neighboring homes, police said.
The attack is the third in a string of attacks by al-Qaeda and Taliban-linked militants over the last week.
The attack took place in Lakki Marwat, which sits on the main road and rail link between Punjab Province, Pakistan's largest and most prosperous, and the North and South Waziristan tribal regions.
A Pakistani army offensive pushed many militants out of South Waziristan in October. The militants still control much of North Waziristan, where U.S. drone aircraft have been conducting a campaign of targeted killings.
Rescue workers and police officials were digging through rubble at the station in the town of Lakki Marwat in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, police official Ghulam Mohammad Khan said. Nine police officers, four adult civilians and four children going to school were slain in the attack.
Police official Liaquat Ali said 45 police were in the building when the bomber struck.
Local TV footage showed emergency workers using heavy machinery to move the rubble of the mostly destroyed police station. Books and a schoolbag could be seen in the wreckage and the twisted frames of a motorcycle and a car sat nearby. A neighborhood shop and mosque also were partly destroyed.
The police chief of Lakki Marwat district was killed in a suicide bombing several months ago and militants have carried out a string of attacks in the area since then.
In recent days, militants have launched attacks across the nation aimed at destabilizing the country and weakening a civilian government already struggling with a massive flooding that has displaced millions and caused widespread destruction.
The deadliest have targeted minority Shiite Muslims. A suicide bombing killed at least 43 Shiite Muslims at a procession in the southwestern city of Quetta on Friday. Two days earlier, a triple suicide attack killed 35 people at a Shiite ceremony in the eastern city of Lahore.
Both were claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, whose commander Qari Hussain Mehsud threatened Friday that his group would wage imminent attacks in the U.S. and Europe.
On the same day, Pakistani intelligence officials said two suspected U.S. missile strikes had killed at least seven people in North Waziristan, which is largely controlled by the Haqqani network, one of the main groups battling Americans in neighboring Afghanistan.