Car bomb targets police station in Pakistan

At least four people were killed and dozens wounded when a car bomb exploded in the city of Mardan in the northwest of Pakistan. The blast was the first since the new government was sworn in in late March.


Four people were killed and 30 hurt when a car bomb ripped through a police station in northwest Pakistan Friday, ending a lull in attacks since a new government took power last month.

The powerful blast in the city of Mardan destroyed the police station and wrecked an adjoining hotel and several shops, and several people were trapped in the rubble, said local police officer Mohammad Akhtar Khan.

"There was a huge explosion. It was an apparent car bomb planted next to the wall between the hotel and the police station and both were wrecked," Khan told AFP by telephone.

"Two policemen including an officer and two civilian workers were killed. Some people are still buried in the debris of the hotel building," Khan added.

A security official said 30 people were wounded in the explosion and that some of the shops were also practically destroyed by the force of the blast.

"There were some people inside the hotel and the shops were opening then there was a deafening blast. Debris flew in the air and there was thick black smoke," witness Sikander Khan told AFP.

"People are saying that a man in a Suzuki car came to the hotel, parked his car outside and then entered to order a cup of tea and then disappeared," he said.

There was no immediate claim or attribution of responsibility.

The blast is the first since Pakistan's new government was sworn in at the end of March, vowing to hold talks with Taliban militants and to reverse pro-US President Pervez Musharraf's strongarm tactics.

It came despite a unilateral ceasefire announced this week by Pakistani Taliban commander Baitullah Mehsud, who has denied accusations by the previous government of masterminding the assassination of ex-premier Benazir Bhutto.

Mardan is the home town of the new chief minister of North West Frontier Province, Amir Haider Hoti, a secularist politician who is playing a key role in negotiations with the rebels.

Officials said earlier this week that the government had made a draft peace agreement with the militants, with steps including a ceasefire on both sides, the withdrawal of troops from certain areas and an exchange of prisoners.

A top pro-Taliban militant, Sufi Mohammad, was freed by Pakistan on Monday.

The White House has warned Pakistan against negotiating with militants, saying that its key ally in the "war on terror" should not bow to Islamic extremism.

Several missile strikes on suspected militant targets in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan earlier this year were attributed to US forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

The last bombing in Pakistan linked to Islamic militants was a suicide attack on an army base in the tribal area of South Waziristan on March 20, which killed five soldiers and wounded a dozen others.

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