/ 29 February 2008

Suicide bomber kills 40 at Pakistan funeral

A suicide bomber killed at least 40 people at a funeral of a policeman in the Swat district of Pakistan, days after the Pakistan army said it had begun to bring the mountainous region under control.

Another suicide bomber rammed his car into a vehicle carrying paramilitary forces in the north-western tribal region, killing one civilian and wounding 17 others, including nine troops.

Deputy Superintendent Karamat Shah, who was among more than 500 mourners at the Swat funeral, said the bomber attacked on Friday after people had offered prayers for the policeman, one of three killed earlier in the day by a roadside bomb.

”Pall bearers were carrying the coffin for a police salute,” he said. Intelligence officials said at least 38 people were killed and a local doctor said more than 50 were wounded.

Earlier this week the Pakistan army, which has been battling Islamist militants in the Swat region of north-west Pakistan for months, said it had cleared most areas aside from a few pockets of resistance.

The attack on the funeral was part of an upsurge in violence that has raised concern about the stability of Pakistan, less than two weeks after an election meant to bring the country back to civilian-led democracy.

On Monday, the army’s top medical officer was killed by a suicide bomber in the city of Rawalpindi. He was the most senior officer killed so far.

In Swat, 34 bodies were received in hospital and more than 50 people were being treated for wounds after the attack on the funeral, said senior doctor Mohammad Khan.

Deputy Superintendent Shah said he also saw people carrying bodies of relatives home to prepare them for burial.

The policeman being buried was one of three policemen killed earlier on Friday when their van struck a roadside bomb in another region of North West Frontier Province, where Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are active.

The bomb exploded near Bannu, a town at the gateway to North Waziristan, a tribal region where al-Qaeda cells have become entrenched.

Hamza Mehsud, chief of police in Bannu district, said the roadside bomb targeted the police van, killing three and critically wounding two.

The funeral of one of the policemen was being held in Swat after dusk in accordance with Muslim custom, and Shah said a power cut immediately after the blast added to confusion.

Friday’s second attack occured about 5km west of Khar, the main town in Bajaur, the most north-easterly of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal regions and known as a safe haven for al-Qaeda-linked militants.

”The bomber hit the mobile paramilitary vehicle, killing a passer-by and wounding 17 others, including nine soldiers of Bajaur Scouts” a security official, Fazal-e-Rabbi said.

On Thursday, a missile, believed to have been fired by a United States pilotless drone, struck a house in North Waziristan, killing 13 suspected militants including some believed to be Arabs.

Over 450 people have been killed in militant-related violence this year alone. A suicide bomb campaign targeting security forces intensified after the army stormed Islamabad’s Red Mosque last July to crush a militant student movement. – Reuters