Suicide bombers kill 41 in Pakistan
A pair of suicide bombers attacked a large gathering of anti- Taliban elders inside a government compound in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing at least 41 people in one of the worst terror strikes to hit the country’s volatile tribal belt this year.
The attack occurred in the town of Ghalanai at the administrative headquarters of Mohmand, a region along the Afghan border that continues to see periodic clashes between Taliban militants and Pakistani troops. A meeting was underway at the compound between leaders of a local anti-Taliban militia and a top Mohmand official, authorities said.
Witnesses said more than 300 people were inside the building when the two attackers appeared. One of the bombers was dressed in a police uniform and was able to walk into the offices where the crowd had gathered. A second bomber was stopped at a perimeter security gate. Both men detonated their explosives seconds apart.
One witness said he was waiting inside the building to meet a local official when “suddenly there was a huge blast. I fell on the ground. When I stood up, there was another blast. As I again fell to the ground, I saw people running in panic.”
Pakistani television showed a long line of wounded people in bloodied tunics on stretchers being rushed into a hospital in Peshawar, northwest Pakistan’s largest city. More than 70 people were injured in the attack. Officials in Mohmand said the compound had metal detectors at its entrance but that they were not functioning at the time because of a power outage. Television footage showed sections of the compound reduced to rubble.
Anti-Taliban tribal meetings and pro-government tribal militias have been frequent targets of insurgents in recent years. On Jan. 1, a man driving a pickup filled with explosives set off a blast near the town of Lakki Marwat, where members of an anti-Taliban tribal militia were playing volleyball. At least 75 people were killed.
In July, two suicide bomb blasts tore through a busy market in the village of Yaka Ghund in Mohmand, killing at least 65 people in an attack that authorities said appeared to be aimed at members of a local anti-Taliban militia who had been meeting in the area.
Mohmand is one of several tribal regions along the Afghan border where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants maintain hideouts. The Pakistani military has launched offensives in several parts of northwest Pakistan -- including the Swat Valley, South Waziristan, Bajaur, Orakzai and Khyber -- in hopes of ending the wave of Taliban-engineered suicide bomb attacks and other terror acts that have ravaged the country in recent years.
Despite the offensives, the insurgency’s top leaders remain active. Many militants were able to flee the military operations well in advance and find sanctuary elsewhere in the tribal belt.
The border between Afghanistan and Mohmand, as well as other regions in Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt, are poorly guarded and extremely porous, making it easy for militants to escape and return. Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister of northwest Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, said regional militancy can be defeated only if Pakistan better coordinates its counter-terrorism efforts with U.S. and Afghan forces battling insurgents on the Afghan side of the border.
“There is a need for an organized and comprehensive strategy in the fight against terrorists in Afghanistan, the tribal areas and Pakistan,” Hussain said. “Otherwise we will keep suffering. There are predictions that this wave of terrorism may continue for the next 14 years. God knows what will happen if terror keeps hitting us for 14 more years.”
Special correspondents Nasir Khan in Islamabad and Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.