By Candace Rondeaux
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan Oct. 6 -- At least 20 people were killed and 35 injured Monday in a suicide bombing that targeted the home of a well-known politician in central Pakistan, according to Pakistani authorities.
The attack occurred in the small town of Bhakkar, where a man wearing a vest filled with explosives entered the home of Rashid Akbar Nawani, a member of Parliament and top opposition leader. The home was packed at the time with guests celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, according to local police officials. Unable to reach Nawani, the suicide bomber detonated his explosives in the middle of the crowd.
The attack appeared to be a departure from the insurgent playbook. As Pakistan has moved awkwardly from military rule to a civilian government, the country has suffered more than 20 major suicide bombings since the year began. Most have occurred in large cities. The attacks have also been concentrated in the country's troubled northwest, near the border with Afghanistan.
Taliban insurgents began stepping up attacks on targets in the country's interior in the spring. They delivered their most devastating blow to the country's capital two weeks ago, when they detonated more than a ton of explosives at the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad. That incident killed more than 50 people and injured at least 250. It remains under investigation.
A security official with the Interior Ministry who spoke on the condition of anonymity confirmed that at least 20 people had been killed in Monday's strike. But local news reports suggested that the death toll could climb, with some television stations reporting as many as 35 killed and 53 injured.
Khadim Hussain, deputy superintendent of police in the area, said Nawani was slightly injured in the attack and was being treated in a local hospital. Hussain said that the head of the suicide bomber had been found but that investigators would need more time to determine the motive for the bombing.
Nawani, an outspoken member of the opposition party led by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has been a critic of the sectarian violence between Sunni and Shiite Muslims that has broken out in Pakistan's tribal areas in recent months. Earlier this year, Nawani, a Shiite, gave an impassioned speech calling for an end to violence against Shiites, who are a minority in Pakistan.
The bombing in Bhakkar marked the third high-profile attack on a Pakistani politician in less than a week. On Thursday, Asfandyar Wali Khan, the Awami National Party leader and one of Pakistan's most widely respected politicians, survived a suicide bombing at his home in the northwest town of Charsadda. Five people were killed.
On Sunday, Islamist insurgents in the country's North-West Frontier Province apparently targeted the ancestral home of Amir Haider Hoti, chief minister of the province and a top leader in the secular ANP. No one was injured in the missile strike.
Special correspondent Shaiq Hussain in Islamabad contributed to this report.