Death toll at aid center rises to 45 in Pakistan suicide bombing
Woman wearing a burka threw two grenades
KHAR, Pakistan — A burka-clad female suicide bomber in Pakistan lobbed hand grenades, then detonated her explosive belt among a crowd at an aid center yesterday, killing at least 45 people in militants’ latest strike against the authorities’ control over the key tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
Police believed it was the first time Islamic militants have sent a woman to carry out a suicide attack in Pakistan, where the US-led war in Afghanistan against Al Qaeda and the Taliban insurgents continues to spill over despite Islamabad’s repeated claims of victory on its side of the porous border.
The bomber, dressed in the head-to-toe robes that women commonly wear in Pakistan and Afghanistan, was challenged by police at a checkpoint, officials said.
She then charged toward a group of 300 people lined up outside the food aid distribution center in the town of Khar, tossing two hand grenades before blowing herself up, officials said. The crowd was made up of people who have fled conflicts elsewhere in the area.
The attack in Khar, the main city in the Bajur region of Pakistan’s northwest, came a day after 150 militants waged pitched gun battles against five security posts in the adjoining Mohmand tribal region to the south.
The fighting, which left 11 soldiers and 24 militants dead, was an unusually strong show of strength by insurgents in border country that the military has twice claimed to have cleaned of militants.
Helicopter gunships backed by artillery continued the battle yesterday, pounding enemy hideouts and killing another 40 militants, said Amjad Ali Khan, the top government official in Mohmand.
The tribal regions are of major concern to the United States because they have been havens for militants fighting NATO and American troops across the border in Afghanistan. The United States has long pressured Pakistan to clear the tribal belt of the insurgents.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for yesterday’s suicide attack in Khar, through its spokesman, Azam Tariq.
The spokesman suggested the victims may have been targeted because most of them belonged to the Salarzai tribe, which was among the first to set up a militia — known as a lashkar — to fight the Taliban in 2008. Other tribes later formed similar militias to resist the militants.
“All anti-Taliban forces — like lashkars, army and security forces — are our target,’’ he said. “We will strike them whenever we have an opportunity.’’
The attack killed 45 people, including six police officers, and wounded more than 100, at least 30 critically, said Tariq Khan, a government official in the Bajur region.
Police said the victims were from various parts of Bajur who gather daily at the center to collect food tokens distributed by the World Food Program and other agencies.
The people were displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the region in early 2009.
Islamist militants battling the state have attacked buildings handing out humanitarian aid in Pakistan before, presumably because they are symbols of the government and Western influence.