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35 dead in Pakistan suicide attack

Latest update : 2008-03-02

A bomber blew himself up at a gathering of tribal leaders and local officials in northwest Pakistan, in a region where violent clashes erupted earlier this year between Pakistani troops and Islamic militants. (Report: C.Norris-Trent)

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a gathering of tribal elders and local officials in northwest Pakistan on Sunday, killing at least 35 people and wounding dozens more, officials 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-premier Benazir Bhutto and former premier Nawaz Sharif.
   
Hundreds of people have died across the northwest 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.
   
Sunday's blast took place in Zarghon village near the lawless town of Darra Adam Khel, the scene of deadly fighting between Pakistani troops and Islamic militants in January, said local security official Shireen Khan.
   
Hundreds of elders from five tribes had convened a traditional council, known as a "jirga", to discuss "efforts to check growing Taliban activity in the area," according to local administration official Khalid Khan.
   
The bomber, believed to be a teenager, approached the meeting place on foot and blew himself up, the security official said, adding that the attacker's head had been recovered.
   
Body parts were strewn across the site, Khalid Khan said.
   
At least 28 people were killed on the spot and more than 30 others wounded, Shireen Khan, the local security official, told AFP.
   
Seven others later died of their injuries in hospitals in Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, emergency services doctor Tariq Khan told AFP. Several of the wounded were in serious condition.
   
"The suicide bomber was an 18-year-old boy. His face is recognisable and initial investigations indicate he was a resident of Darra Adam Khel," senior local official Saleem Gandapur told AFP.
   
One tribesman who attended the meeting, Khalid Afridi, told AFP that the gathering had been a high-level one attended by influential tribal chiefs and key religious scholars.
   
"The meeting decided to raise a tribal army to deal with Taliban militants," he said.
   
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
   
Officials say Darra Adam Khel -- known for its weapons bazaar and illegal arms factories -- had recently become a stronghold of the banned Sunni Muslim extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is said to have links to Al-Qaeda.
   
In January, Pakistani forces mounted a major offensive 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.
   
Sunday's blast was the third attack in as many days.
   
On Friday, a suicide bomber killed at least 44 people and injured up to 90 others during a funeral for a slain police officer in the town of Mingora in the northwestern Swat valley, a hotbed of religious militancy.
   
On Saturday, another bomber rammed his car into a security vehicle in lawless Bajaur tribal district, killing two people and injuring 21 others, local officials told AFP.
   
Last week, 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.
   
Baitullah Mehsud, an Al-Qaeda-linked militant commander based in the tribal area of South Waziristan, is accused by the Pakistan government and the United States CIA of masterminding the December assassination of Bhutto.
   
He was formally charged on Saturday with plotting her murder.
   
Last year, about 2,000 people were killed in militant-related violence across Pakistan, seen as the front line in the US-led "war on terror".
   
The violence intensified after the military stormed Islamabad's hardline Red Mosque in July, in an operation that killed more than 100 people.
  

Date created : 2008-03-02

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