Suicide attack kills dozens in Pakistan tribal belt
A suicide bomber drove a motorbike into a crowd of Pakistanis in a busy market outside a local goverment office in the lawless north-west on Friday, killing 47 people and flattening rows of shops.
The attacker struck in Yakaghund town in the district of Mohmand, one of seven that make up Pakistan’s tribal belt that Washington has branded a global headquarters of al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.
It was the deadliest attack in nuclear-armed Pakistan since gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed prayer halls belonging to the minority Ahmadi community in the city of Lahore in May, killing at least 82 people.
A Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked bombing spree across Pakistan has killed about 3 500 people in three years since government troops
besieged a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad in July 2007.
Witnesses said a huge explosion damaged an administration office, shops, a jail and other buildings in the small town not far from the border with Afghanistan, where 140 000 US-led foreign troops are fighting the Taliban.
Raj Wali (23) a labourer who was working on a nearby road at the time of the blast, said he suddenly felt a massive blow to his back.
Fears that toll could rise
“I turned round and saw the area engulfed in smoke. People were crying. I also saw body parts scattered near the blast site,” he said.
Rescue workers were shifting through the debris of partially collapsed buildings and there are fears that the death toll could rise if more bodies are pulled out of the wreckage.
“Forty-seven people have died. There were about 80 shops. Most of them have been damaged,” local administration official Rasool Khan told reporters.
Tribal police were among the dead and at least 28 prisoners held for petty crime escaped after the explosives brought down an outer wall of a local jail, he said.
The precise target of the attack was not immediately clear given the remote location, although Khan said it was his office that had been targetted.
“They wanted to kill me, but luckly I was not in the office at the time.”
Administration official Maqsood Ahmed said the attacker had struck while a free wheelchairs and food items were being handed out in conjunction with an international aid group.
“A function was held at the office to distribute wheelchairs. A lot of people had gathered outside the office,” he said.
Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, immediate suspicion fell on Islamist militant groups which have carved out havens in the remote and craggy mountains of Pakistan’s tribal belt outside direct government control.
The nuclear-armed Islamic republic is on the frontline of the US war against al-Qaeda and the Pakistani military are bogged down fighting homegrown Taliban in the north-western border areas.
Wave of bombings
Hugging the border with Afghanistan, where US and Nato allies are trying to end a nearly nine-year war, north-west Pakistan has suffered a wave of bombings causing mass casualties and insurgency, fanning fears about regional stability.
Pakistani leaders this week called for a landmark national conference to develop a strategy to counter the Islamist militant threat after a twin suicide attack killed 43 people at a shrine in Lahore on July 2.
In a rarity for the fractious world of Pakistani politics, the government said all major parties would be invited to the conference to find ways to eradicate terror and curb the problems of militancy.
The details and date of the possible conference have not been made clear.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said sectarian militant groups based in the central Punjab province, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, are colluding with Taliban and al-Qaeda to recruit
Young men were sent to training camps in the tribal belt and dispatched as bombers and militant cells back to Punjab and other cities, officials say.
Pakistani security forces have fought in the tribal belt and parts of the north-west for years, but deadly clashes are still largely a daily occurrence. - AFP