Pakistan blast death toll at least 50
Police raid Islamic school; 7 are arrested
SHERPAO, Pakistan - Pakistani police raided an Islamic school and arrested seven students yesterday, hours after a suicide bomber killed at least 50 people inside a mosque packed with holiday worshippers at the home of the former interior minister.
Suspicion for the blast, which left bloody clothing, shoes, and pieces of flesh scattered across the house of worship, focused on the pro-Taliban or Al Qaeda militants active near the Afghan border, where the attack occurred.
It was the second suicide attack in eight months apparently targeting Aftab Khan Sherpao, who as interior minister was deeply involved in Pakistan's efforts to combat the Taliban and drive out Al Qaeda.
Sherpao was praying in the mosque's front row at the time of the attack, but he escaped injury.
"Yes, I'm fine," Sherpao said in a brief telephone interview. One of his sons was wounded, and witnesses said the dead included police officers guarding Sherpao.
President Pervez Musharraf condemned the blast and directed security and intelligence agencies to track down the masterminds, the state Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
After the bombing, dozens of police and intelligence agents raided an Islamic school in the nearby village of Turangzai and arrested seven students, some of them Afghans, two police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The officials declined to say whether the raid was connected to the attack.
The blast deepened the sense of uncertainty in Pakistan ahead of Jan. 8 parliamentary elections, which Sherpao, as head of the Pakistan
The bombing turned a prayer service crowded with hundreds of people celebrating the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha into a scene of carnage at the mosque inside Sherpao's residential compound in Sherpao, a village 25 miles northeast of the city of Peshawar.
The bomber was in a row of worshippers when he detonated the explosives, provincial police chief Sharif Virk said.
"There was blood and body parts everywhere. There was panic everywhere. People were running. Some people were injured in the chaos," said Iqbal Hussain, a police officer in charge of security at the mosque.
District Mayor Farman Ali Khan said between 50 and 55 people were killed, and authorities were collecting information on their identities. The police chief, Feroz Shah, said more than 100 were wounded.
The hospital in Peshawar was wracked with chaos as the wounded arrived in pickup trucks, ambulance sirens wailed, and the injured screamed for help. The bomb contained between 13 and 17 pounds of explosives and was filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties, according to the head of the bomb unit at the scene.
A bulldozer was brought in to help volunteers dig graves for the dead next to the mosque.
Minhaj Khan was digging a grave for the dismembered body of Shah Jee, 28, a father of two from the village.
"He was a poor laborer. Now who will look after his family?" he asked. "It is nothing but extreme cruelty to kill people on such a holy day for Muslims."
Hussain, the police officer, said everyone entering was forced to pass through a body scanner and was searched with metal and explosive detectors. "We don't know how the bomber got in," he said.
After the blast, Sherpao's house was protected by about a dozen police and paramilitary troops.
As interior minister, Sherpao oversaw one of Pakistan's civilian spy agencies, police and paramilitary forces involved in operations against militants along the Afghan border.
The army says the most recent attacks could be retaliation for a military operation against militants in the Swat valley, where it claims to have killed about 300 militants since last month.