Burqa-clad suicide bomber kills 45 in Pakistan

A burqa-clad female suicide bomber in Pakistan lobbed hand grenades, then detonated her explosive belt among a crowd at an aid center Saturday, killing at least 45 people in militants' latest strike against the authorities' control over the key tribal region bordering Afghanistan.

Police believed it was the first time Islamic militants have sent a woman to carry out a suicide attack in Pakistan, where the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban insurgents continues to spill over despite Islamabad's repeated claims of victory on its side of the porous border.



The bomber, dressed in the head-to-toe burqa robes that women commonly wear Pakistan and Afghanistan, was challenged by police at a check point, officials said.



She then charged toward a group of 300 people lined up outside the food aid distribution center in the town of Khar, tossing two hand grenades before blowing herself up, officials said. The crowd was made up of people who have fled conflicts elsewhere in the area.



The attack in Khar, the main city in the Bajur region of Pakistan's northwest, came a day after 150 militants waged pitched gun battles against five security posts in the adjourning Mohmand tribal region to the south. The fighting, which left 11 soldiers and 24 militants dead, was an unusually strong show of strength by insurgents in border country that the military has twice claimed to have cleaned of militants.



Helicopter gunships backed by artillery continued the battle on Saturday, pounding enemy hideouts and killing another 40 militants, said Amjad Ali Khan, the top government official in Mohmand.



The tribal regions are of major concern to the US because they have been safe havens for militants fighting Nato and American troops across the border in Afghanistan. The US has long pressured Pakistan to clear the tribal belt of the insurgents.



The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday's suicide attack in Khar, through its spokesman, Azam Tariq.



The spokesman suggested the victims may have been targeted because most of them belonged to the Salarzai tribe, which was among the first to set up a militia — known as a lashkar — to fight the Taliban in 2008. Other tribes later formed similar militias to resist the militants.



"All anti-Taliban forces — like lashkars, army and security forces — are our target," he said. "We will strike them whenever we have an opportunity."



The attack killed 45 people, including six policemen, and wounded more than 100, at least 30 critically, said Tariq Khan, a government official in the Bajur region.



Police said the victims were from various parts of Bajur who gather daily at the center to collect food tokens distributed by the World Food Program and other agencies to conflicted-affected people in the region. The people were displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the region in early 2009.



Islamist militants battling the state have attacked buildings handing out humanitarian aid in Pakistan before, presumably because they are symbols of the government and Western influence.



Tariq Khan and another local official, Sohail Khan, said an examination of the human remains has confirmed the bomber was a woman.



Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security and political analyst, said the suicide bombing appeared to be the first carried out by a woman in Pakistan.



"It is no surprise. They can use a woman, a child or whatever," Rizvi said. "Human life is not important to them, only the objective they are pursuing" of undermining state power, he added.



Male suicide bombers often don the burqa — an Islamic dress that also covers the woman's face — as a disguise. In 2007, officials initially claimed Pakistan's first female suicide bomber had killed 14 people in the northwest town of Bannu but the attacker was later identified as a man. Islamic militants in Iraq have used women suicide bombers several times, since women in their all-enveloping robes are seen as able to pass more easily through security, especially since male security officers are often hesitant to search women.



Akbar Jan, 45, who sustained leg wounds in the bombing, said from his hospital bed that people were lining up for the ration coupons when the explosion went off.



"We thought someone had fired a rocket," he told The Associated Press. He said within seconds he saw the ground strewn with the wounded.



"I realized a little later that I myself have suffered wounds," he said. "Everybody was crying. It was blood and human flesh everywhere."



Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the bombing and said Pakistanis are "united against them."



Bajur is on the northern tip of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal belt, bordering Afghanistan and the so-called "settled" areas in Pakistan. It has served as a key transit point and hideout for al-Qa'ida and the Taliban.



The military first declared victory in Bajur following a six-month operation launched in late 2008. But the army was forced to launch a follow-up operation in late January this year and declared victory again about a month later. Still, violence has persisted.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Brendan Rodgers is confident that Sterling will put pen to paper on a new deal at Anfield
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Life and Style
tech
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

Rebranding Christmas

More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up
A Greek island - yours for the price of a London flat

A sun-kissed island - yours for the price of a London flat

Cash-strapped Greeks are selling off their slices of paradise
Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

Pogues could enjoy fairytale Christmas No 1 thanks to digital streaming

New system means that evergreen songs could top the festive charts
Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence

Prince of Wales: Gruff Rhys

He is a musician of wondrous oddity. He is on a perpetual quest to seek the lost tribes of the Welsh diaspora. Just don't ask Gruff Rhys if he's a national treasure...