Suicide bombers kill 30 in Pakistan

Los Angeles Times

Two suicide bombers attacked a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 30 people and injuring more than 70 in what appeared to be retaliation for the military’s latest offensive against Taliban insurgents in the volatile tribal areas’ Orakzai region.

The dead and wounded were all Orakzai tribespeople who had been queuing up for food at a refugee camp in the Kohat region, said North-West Frontier Province Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain. Police said a suicide bomber rushed up to the line and blew himself up.

As other tribespeople and rescue personnel rushed to help the wounded, a second bomber detonated his explosives.

“The second explosion was more devastating than the first,” said Dilawar Khan Bangash, a senior Kohat police officer. Bangash said the death toll was likely to rise.

The offensive in Orakzai is the latest in a series of operations the Pakistani army has embarked on over the last year to uproot the Taliban insurgency from the country’s northwest. Last summer, the army flushed Taliban fighters out of the Swat Valley, and more recent offensives have pushed most insurgents out of the South Waziristan and Bajaur tribal districts.

Orakzai, long considered a hub for Taliban militants, recently received new waves of insurgents fleeing the fighting in South Waziristan. In recent weeks, the military has pounded suspected Taliban hideouts with air strikes from fighter jets and helicopter gunships.

The fighting in Orakzai has displaced more than 200,000 tribespeople, according to the U.N. Those unable to seek temporary refuge with relatives in the nearby city of Peshawar or other parts of Pakistan have sought aid at camps like the one in Kohat.

Saturday’s attack raised concerns about the level of police presence at refugee camps near the tribal areas, which are highly vulnerable to militant violence. Witnesses said that before the blasts, security at the camp was light.

Meanwhile, Pakistan’s top army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, issued an apology for an air strike April 10 that killed dozens of civilians in the tribal region of Khyber, a rare acknowledgment of civilian deaths caused by Pakistani military actions.

At first, the army denied that any civilians were killed in the air strike in the Tirah Valley, even though local government officials had already begun doling out monetary compensation to survivors and families of victims. Villagers said that the air strike killed more than 70 civilians.

Los Angeles Times staff writer Alex Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, and special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali reported from Peshawar.