Suicide attack kills 50 in Pakistan

Updated: 2007-12-21 21:27

The bomber was praying in a row of worshippers when he detonated the explosive, provincial police chief Sharif Virk said. Hundreds of people were in or around the mosque, about 40 yards from Sherpao's house, witnesses said.

District mayor Farman Ali Khan said between 50 and 55 people were killed, and authorities were collecting information on their identities. Local police chief Feroz Shah said over 100 were wounded.

The hospital in Peshawar was wracked with chaos as the injured arrived in pickup trucks, ambulance sirens wailed and the wounded screamed for help. The bomb contained between 13-17 pounds of explosives and was filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties, said the head of the bomb unit at the scene, who declined to give his name.

A bulldozer was brought in to dig graves for the dead next to the mosque. Other volunteers used shovels.

Iqbal Hussain, a police officer in charge of security at the mosque, said all those who entered had been made to pass through a body scanner and were searched with metal and explosive detectors.

Hamid Nawaz, the current interior minister, maintained there was no security lapse.

"All possible care had been taken, there was no lapse as such ... but such an incident can happen at such a gathering," Nawaz said on Aaj TV.

After the blast, Sherpao's house was protected by about a dozen armed police and paramilitary troops. In a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press, Sherpao said he was unhurt.

"Yes, I'm fine," he said.

Sherpao was interior minister — Pakistan's top civilian security official — in the administration recently dissolved ahead of January parliamentary elections. He is head of the Pakistan Peoples Party-Sherpao, and is running as a candidate for parliament in next month's elections.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the blast and directed security and intelligence agencies to track down the masterminds, the state Associated Press of Pakistan reported.

In April, Sherpao was slightly wounded when a suicide bomber attacked a rally for his political party in the nearby town of Charsadda, killing at least 28 people.

Islamic militants have repeatedly targeted top figures in the government of Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terror. Musharraf himself narrowly escaped assassination in two bombings a few days apart in December 2003 near Islamabad.

Taliban and al-Qaida fighters have extended their influence over tracts of Pakistan's volatile northwest in the past two years and in recent months have launched numerous suicide attacks, usually targeting security forces and their families.

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.

The wave of violence comes as Pakistan struggles to emerge from months of political turmoil.

Musharraf recently declared emergency rule for six weeks — a step he contended was necessary to combat rising Islamic extremism, although it was widely seen as a move to prolong his presidency.

On Friday, police rearrested a prominent opposition lawyer, a day after releasing him, despite promises he would be allowed to remain free for the three-day Eid holiday. Aitzaz Ahsan was picked up before dawn as he traveled on the road from the eastern city of Lahore to the capital, Islamabad, and put back under house arrest in Lahore, his son, Ali Aitzaz, said.

Aitzaz Ahsan has been at the forefront of a lawyers' protest movement against Musharraf's rule. The lawyers are demanding the reinstatement of the Supreme Court's top judge, Iftikhar Mohammed Chaudhry, and other independent-minded justices.

   1 2   

Top World News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours