Suicide Blast Kills 40 At Meeting in Pakistan

Volunteers in Peshawar, Pakistan, carry a man wounded in a town where plans to punish al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers were being discussed.
Volunteers in Peshawar, Pakistan, carry a man wounded in a town where plans to punish al-Qaeda and Taliban sympathizers were being discussed. (By Muhammmad Zubair -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Monday, March 3, 2008

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, March 2 -- A bomber blew himself up Sunday among thousands of tribal members discussing resistance to al-Qaeda and the Taliban, killing 40 people in the third suicide attack in as many days in northwestern Pakistan.

Five tribes were finalizing a resolution that would punish anyone who shelters or helps al-Qaeda, Taliban and other fighters, said retired Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, an Interior Ministry spokesman.

A young man walked up to a group of elders and detonated his explosives, said Alam Khan, a tribesman at the meeting in Darra Adam Khel, a town in North-West Frontier Province about 25 miles south of the provincial capital, Peshawar.

"It was a huge explosion and left body parts and blood scattered on the ground," said Ramin Khan, another participant who was wounded in the left leg and face. He and others hurt in the attack were brought to a hospital in Peshawar.

Hamid Afridy, the area's chief medical officer, said that he counted 40 bodies and that more than 100 injured were hospitalized. Many were in critical condition, so the death toll could rise, he said.

Television footage showed blood, shoes and caps littering the bombing site -- a tree-lined ground surrounded by wheat fields, only yards away from brick homes.

President Pervez Musharraf called the bombing an attempt to sabotage tribal efforts to rid the region of militant influence and reiterated the government's "resolve and commitment" in the fight against terrorism.

The attack came two days after a suicide bomber struck at the funeral of a slain police officer in the town of Mingora in Swat Valley, killing more than 40 people and injuring at least 60. On Saturday, a suicide bombing in nearby Bajur killed one person and wounded 19 others, mostly security personnel.

Friday's bombing was the deadliest attack in the Swat Valley since followers of a pro-Taliban cleric, Maulana Fazlullah, grabbed control of large parts of the scenic corner of Pakistan's restive northwest.

The army says it has retaken most of Swat since Musharraf sent thousands of troops there in November, but attacks persist and Fazlullah remains at large.

Musharraf has U.S. backing for his efforts against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters, many of whom operate in rugged parts of Pakistan near the Afghan border.

But he has faced an uncertain political future since his allies were soundly defeated in parliamentary elections last month. His popularity plummeted last year after he declared a state of emergency, clamped down on the news media and fired dozens of independent-minded judges, including many Supreme Court justices.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company