Courtroom bombing in Pakistan kills 15

February 18, 2007|By New York Times News Service

KARACHI, Pakistan --In the sixth suicide bombing in a month, a man blew himself up in a small district courtroom in the border town of Quetta yesterday, killing 15 people, including a senior judge, and injuring 35, officials said.

No group claimed responsibility, but the chief elected official of the province connected it to the string of suicide attacks that have killed about 40 people and put security forces on alert across the country.

The Quetta blast could be linked to earlier suicide attacks in Islamabad and Peshawar, said Jam Mohammad Yousaf, the chief minister of Baluchistan province.

Baluchistan has often been the scene of bombings linked to Sunni and Shiite sectarian groups and, to a lesser extent, Baluch nationalists who are fighting an insurgency against the government. But Yousaf said local groups lacked the expertise for suicide bombing.

The recent string of bombings began after the military carried out an airstrike against suspected militants in the tribal area of South Waziristan on Jan. 16.

A militant leader, Baitullah Mehsud, vowed to use suicide bombers to take revenge. Pakistani officials have not directly implicated Mehsud in the bombings while the investigations are under way, and he has denied any involvement, saying his threat was an emotional outburst.

Mehsud is believed to have trained suicide bombers and sent them into Afghanistan, where 127 suicide attacks occurred last year.

Militants based in the tribal areas, who are sympathetic to the Afghan Taliban and al-Qaida, are widely believed to be behind suicide bombings in Afghanistan, and have in the past been implicated in the more rare attacks in Pakistan.

Pakistan's president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, and an Army Corps commander have all come under attack in the past few years, as have foreign targets like the U.S. Consulate in Karachi and a busload of French engineers. Officials say the attacks are prompted by Pakistan's pro-U.S. policy since Sept. 11, 2001. Recent attacks have focused on softer targets, with bombers often on foot and killing civilians.

The trend is a shock for Pakistan and a stark warning for the government, which has largely ignored Afghan pleas to go after militants in the tribal areas.

The target the bomber chose in Quetta was a small district court in the center of the city, where there was little security. The bomber pushed his way in at the court's busiest time, about 11 a.m., saying that he was due at a hearing. He blew himself up at the door of the first room he came to.

Judge Abdul Waheed Durrani, who was hearing a case involving a property dispute, was killed, along with six lawyers and relatives of the defendants. Bodies and debris littered the room afterward, and shrapnel scarred the walls.

Aziz condemned the attack. "That is why we are against terrorism, because it kills innocent lives," he told journalists during a visit to Peshawar. "It is against our religion and against humanity."

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