Bomber Kills 40 at Funeral In Pakistan's Swat Valley

By Imtiaz Ali and Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, March 1, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb. 29 -- At least 40 people were killed and more than 50 injured when a suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for a police officer Friday in Pakistan's turbulent North-West Frontier Province, according to police and residents.

The blast decimated a high school in the Swat Valley town of Mingaora where more than 500 people had gathered for the funeral, said Mir Qasim, a police official. Witnesses said the explosion ripped through the mourners during prayers for the officer, Javed Iqabal, who was killed with his driver Friday morning when their car ran over a roadside bomb in North Waziristan, a restive tribal region that borders North-West Frontier Province.

The death toll from the suicide attack was still rising, and hospital officials said they were overwhelmed by the number of critically injured. A state of emergency was declared at several hospitals in the area as medical workers struggled in the dark to care for the injured after an electrical blackout in the town.

"It's a big disaster, and there are limited facilities in the local hospitals and many of the injured badly need blood," said Shirin Ali, a paramedic at one of the hospitals.

The Swat Valley, a once-prized vacation spot, has become the scene of intense battles between the Pakistani military and fighters loyal to a radical cleric who took control of the region last year.

Hundreds have been killed in clashes there, but recently army officials have emphasized their successes, saying the government has all but wrested control of the Swat Valley from the fighters.

Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, a military spokesman, said in an interview Thursday that about 300 fighters and 36 government troops had been killed in fighting since November. He added that order had been restored to the area after the recent capture of about 2,000 fighters but that some pockets of the region remained under the fighters' control.

Rondeaux reported from Islamabad, Pakistan.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company