2 suicide bombers kill at least 40 at Pakistani refugee camp

By Haq Nawaz Khan and Karin Brulliard
Sunday, April 18, 2010

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- Two suicide bombers struck at a Pakistani refugee camp Saturday, killing at least 40 people who had sought sanctuary from fighting in the militant-plagued tribal belt.

The assailants, who concealed their explosives under head-to-toe burqas, detonated the bombs within minutes of each other near lines of refugees waiting to register for food and other aid at a camp in Pakistan's Kohat region.

Those killed were among more than 200,000 people who have fled an escalating military offensive against insurgents in Orakzai, a militant hub near the Afghan border. Sectarian violence is common in the area near the camp, and some refugees said the bombers targeted a line specifically for Shiites, a minority in this predominantly Sunni country.

There was no assertion of responsibility, but authorities said the bombings were probably orchestrated by the Pakistani Taliban, a loose collection of militant groups that has waged attacks across the nation since last fall. The Taliban campaign has slowed in recent months as the army has broadened anti-militant operations and the United States has increased drone strikes in the tribal areas.

The Taliban often targets security forces over their alliance with the United States, and analysts said the attack on refugees -- who often receive aid from international agencies -- might be another form of that message. The targeting of displaced civilians was widely condemned in Pakistan.

"I don't know what was the motive behind this, because we were over 200 displaced people, and mostly innocent people were killed," said one refugee, shopkeeper Islam Gul, 33, adding that the explosions turned the registration point into a gruesome scene.

Fazal Naeem, a police spokesman in Kohat, told reporters that the blasts killed at least 40 people and injured 60.

Also Saturday, Pakistan's army issued a rare apology to the Kukikhel tribe for what it termed an "unfortunate incident" that caused civilian deaths. The statement was a response to an airstrike last weekend that leaders of the northwest tribe, who had defied the Taliban by supporting government forces, said killed more than 70 civilians.

The airstrike was criticized as a serious mistake that could cost the army vital support among tribes and the public. But a Kukikhel leader said Saturday that the tribe had accepted the apology.

"The apology was our main demand, and we were not expecting it," Malik Abdur Rahim Kukikhel said in a telephone interview. "With this rare development, our trust in the army was restored."

Khan is a special correspondent. Brulliard reported from Islamabad.

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