Grieving Pakistan tribesmen bury dead after blast

Pakistani tribesmen on Monday buried the last of the 43 people killed in a suicide bomb attack at a meeting of tribal elders discussing how to tackle al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.

Authorities declared three days of mourning in the north-western town of Darra Adam Khel after Sunday’s attack, and all shops, schools and even the area’s famed illegal arms bazaar were shut down, officials and witnesses said.

The attack was the third in as many days in Pakistan, posing an immediate challenge to the country’s incoming government, set to be a coalition led by the parties of slain ex-prmie minister Benazir Bhutto and former premier Nawaz Sharif.

“There has never been such a tragedy in the history of Darra Adam Khel. We had to bury some without hands or legs, or in some cases there were only pieces of flesh and bones,” said local school teacher Tahir Khan.

Muslim clerics used mosque loudspeakers to announce one funeral after another and burials continued late into the night after the blast in Zarghon village, just outside Darra Adam Khel, residents said.

People with spades and pickaxes were seen filing to the local cemetery for the final funerals on Monday morning, they said.

Residents said that of the five major ethnic Pashtun tribes that gathered for Sunday’s ill-fated “peace meeting”, not one was left without casualties to mourn.

“We have declared a three-day mourning period in the area,” said local administration official Saleem Gandapur.

Based on information from relatives, the death toll had risen to 43, he said, adding: “There is a possibility that the final death toll may be higher as we are still compiling the data from the affected families.”

Groups of mourners visited bereaved families at their fortress-like mud and clay houses to offer prayers. Neighbours served food, as Muslim custom dictates that food cannot be served in the house where a death has occurred.

The remains of the suspected bomber including his severed head and legs have been sent to a hospital in the nearby city of Kohat for forensic tests, Gandapur said.

He said the bomber appeared to be 18 years old. Officials said he approached the meeting of hundreds of tribesmen on foot and blew himself up.

President Pervez Musharraf “strongly condemned” the suicide attack, saying it was an attempt to sabotage peace moves in the troubled region, state media reported.

About 600 people have died across the north-west of the country in recent months in clashes between pro-Taliban militants and security forces and in a wave of suicide attacks blamed on the extremist rebels.

In January, Pakistani forces mounted a major offensive in Darra Adam Khel to clear Islamic insurgents from a major road tunnel in the area. At least 13 soldiers and 50 militants were killed in the heavy fighting.

On Friday, a suicide bomber killed at least 44 people in the north-western Swat valley at the funeral for a policeman killed in a roadside bombing. On Saturday, a car killed two people in the lawless Bajaur tribal district.

A week ago the army’s top medical officer, Lieutenant General Mushtaq Baig, was killed in a suicide attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

The military said that attack was likely in retaliation for army offensives against extremists operating in lawless areas near the border with Afghanistan. – AFP

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