Pakistan suicide attack toll rises to 41

The death toll from a suicide car bombing at a polling station in northwest Pakistan has risen to 41, police said Monday, as Taliban-linked extremists claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack on Sunday destroyed a school in the town of Buner on the edge of the restive Swat valley, where voters were casting ballots in a parliamentary by-election, and caused the collapse of a busy market nearby.

“Five more bodies were pulled from the rubble of the school building overnight, bringing the death toll to 41,” said local police official Behramand Khan.

“We are also now in a position to confirm that it was a suicide car bomb attack,” Khan said.

The scenic Swat valley—once known as the “Switzerland of Pakistan”—used to be a popular destination for local and foreign tourists, and boasted the country’s only ski resort.

But the region has been turned into a battleground since radical cleric Maulana Fazlullah, who has links to Pakistan’s Taliban movement, launched a violent campaign for the introduction of Islamic Sharia law in the valley.

Fazlullah is known as “Mullah Radio” for spreading his views through fiery speeches broadcast over his private FM radio station.

His deputy Shah Dauran claimed responsibility for the attack in a message aired on the station, saying it was carried out to avenge the killings of six Taliban several months ago by local pro-government fighters.

“The bodies of our companions were dragged in the streets,” Dauran said, threatening more attacks by Fazlullah’s forces because those responsible for the deaths of the six Taliban had not been brought to justice.

Pakistani troops launched a major offensive in November last year to drive Fazlullah’s followers out of the area.

The army redoubled its anti-Taliban drive in Swat earlier this year but has since scaled back its operations. - AFP

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