Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan, and Peshawar, Pakistan -- Two suicide bombers attacked a refugee camp in northwest Pakistan on Saturday, killing at least 41 people and injuring 64 others in what appeared to be retaliation for the military’s latest offensive against Taliban fighters.
The dead and wounded had been lining up for food at a refugee camp in the volatile tribal region’s Kohat district, 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 others rushed to the blast site to help the wounded, a second bomber detonated his explosives. All the victims had fled the fighting in the nearby Orakzai tribal area.
“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 by the Pakistani army 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 areas.
Orakzai, long considered a hub for Taliban militants, recently received new waves of insurgents fleeing the fighting in South Waziristan. The military has been pounding suspected Taliban hide-outs with airstrikes by fighter jets and helicopter gunships.
The fighting in Orakzai has displaced more than 200,000 tribespeople, according to the United Nations. Those unable to seek refuge with relatives in the nearby city of Peshawar or other parts of Pakistan have sought aid at camps such as 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 army chief, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, apologized Saturday for an airstrike a week earlier that killed dozens of civilians in the Khyber tribal area, a rare acknowledgment of civilian deaths caused by Pakistani military actions.
The army had denied that any civilians were killed in the airstrike in the Tirah Valley, even though local government officials had already begun doling out compensation to survivors and families of victims. Villagers said the attack killed more than 70 civilians.
Ali is a special correspondent.