A suicide bomber dressed in an all-enveloping burka struck at a crowded food distribution center in Pakistan’s volatile tribal region Saturday, killing at least 45 people and injuring more than 60, officials said.
The attack in the town of Khar, the administrative center of the Bajaur tribal area, came amid fighting between Pakistani security forces and insurgents in the region bordering Afghanistan. About 24 hours earlier, a major clash in the neighboring Mohmand tribal area left 11 troops and about two dozen militants dead.
With as many as 1,000 people lined up in the morning chill awaiting food aid, the attacker first hurled grenades into the crowd, then detonated explosives. Hours afterward, officials were still trying to determine whether the bomber was a woman or a man disguised as one.
Witnesses described a horrific scene, with mangled bodies and bloodied clothing scattered over a wide area, and wounded people crying out for help. The most critically injured were taken to hospitals in Peshawar, the nearest large city. Officials said the death toll could rise.
Most of those at the distribution center had been displaced by fighting between Taliban militants and the security forces in Bajaur and other areas along the border with Afghanistan. More than 300,000 people have been driven from their homes by a military push against the insurgents that began in 2008.
“People come to the center before dawn and wait their turn to get food,” said Ansar Khan, who witnessed the attack. He said the attack began moments after guards stopped the burka-clad assailant at a checkpoint just outside the distribution area.
Across the border in Afghanistan, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said it had killed two insurgents in night raids Friday in the provinces of Khowst and Lowgar. Many militants affiliated with the Taliban and the Haqqani network take shelter in Pakistan between attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force also said Saturday that a deadly raid on a compound in the Afghan capital, Kabul, a day earlier was prompted by a “credible threat” against the U.S. Embassy. Two men were killed in the raid on the compound, which belonged to a private Afghan security firm, and Afghan officials suggested that it might have been a case of mistaken identity.
Both NATO and the Afghan government said an investigation was continuing.
Ali is a special correspondent.