Bomber kills 48 in Pakistan

Hundreds hurt in 2nd failed attempt on politician's life

December 22, 2007|By New York Times News Service

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- A suicide attacker detonated a powerful bomb inside a crowded mosque in Northwestern Pakistan yesterday, killing 48 people and wounding 100 as they celebrated one of Islam's major holidays with the country's former interior minister, state-run news media reported.

The bombing was the second assassination attempt in eight months on the official, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who was the country's top law enforcement official until last month and who is running for Parliament in elections planned for January.

He was unhurt, but his son and two grandnephews were among the wounded. Police estimated that hundreds of people had been inside the mosque, a modest white building constructed by the former minister's family in his ancestral village, Sherpao.

In a telephone interview, Sherpao said he believed that Islamic militants linked to al-Qaida were responsible. He said that the bomb exploded as he and his relatives prayed in the front row of worshipers.

"It was a massacre," Sherpao said, his voice shaking with anger. "I can tell you that."

After the bombing, police and intelligence agents raided an Islamic school in the nearby village of Turangzai and arrested seven students, some of them Afghans, the Associated Press reported, citing two police officials who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly comment. The police officials declined to say whether the raid was connected to the suicide bombing.

The blast was the latest in a series of attacks that suggests that a state of emergency declared by President Pervez Musharraf last month has largely failed to halt terrorist attacks. From Nov. 3 to Dec. 15, Musharraf suspended the constitution and ruled by decree in what he said was an effort to curb terrorism.

His opponents said Musharraf used his emergency powers to suppress his political opponents and remove the country's Supreme Court before it could rule him ineligible for a third term in office.

Musharraf has cited an offensive by 20,000 Pakistani soldiers in the Swat Valley, a famed tourist area in northwestern Pakistan, as a sign of progress.

Military officials say they have routed militants who have seized control of the area, killing 300 and driving the remainder into surrounding hills.

But suicide bombings have continued in northwestern Pakistan, possibly in response to the offensive. On Dec. 9, a suicide bombing in the Swat Valley killed six civilians and a police officer. On Dec. 10, a suicide bomb attack on a military truck carrying schoolchildren outside a Pakistani Air Force base in Kamra wounded five children and two adults.

On Dec. 15, a suicide bomber riding a bicycle killed two soldiers and three civilians outside an army camp in Nowshera. On Dec. 18, 12 soldiers were killed when a suicide bomber detonated explosives near a sports field used by the Pakistani army in Kohat.

The mosque attack, with its high toll and its timing on a major holiday, represented a stepping-up of the violence. The holiday, Id al-Adha, the Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, marks the end of the annual hajj, or pilgrimage to the city of Mecca, and celebrates the willingness of Ibrahim, or Abraham, to sacrifice his son when ordered to do so by God. Islam honors Abraham, like Jesus and many other biblical figures, as prophets.

Throughout the day, Pakistani television stations showed images of blood-spattered prayer caps and clothes scattered across a white marble courtyard outside the mosque. Trails of blood marked where the wounded had been dragged from the building. Dozens of shoes lay abandoned.

After the bombing, local men frantically dug graves in an effort to bury the dead before sunset, in the Muslim tradition.

Standing before a long line of coffins in a local graveyard, tall, bearded men wept. Thirty-eight people were buried in the village, Reuters reported, and some body parts were buried separately in a collective grave.

In April, a suicide bomber killed 28 people in an attack on Sherpao's political party in Charsadda, a nearby town. Sherpao was slightly wounded in that attack.

Sherpao, like all other ministers in Musharraf's government, resigned last month to allow a caretaker government to oversee the elections, to be held Jan. 8.

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