Suicide bomb attack at funeral in Pakistan

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The Independent Online

A suicide bomber has attacked a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in north-western Pakistan, killing at least 31 mourners, police officials said.

The blast took place close to the city of Peshawar, not far from the tribally administered regions that border Afghanistan where militants are at their strongest.

Police officer Zahid Khan said around 300 people were attending the funeral for the wife of a militiamen in the Matani area when the bomber struck.

TV footage showed men picking up bloodied sandals and caps from a dusty, open space where mourners had gathered.

More than 30 people were wounded in the explosion.

The area is home to several tribal armies that battle the Taliban and receive government support for doing so.

Like elsewhere in the north west, the militias have been relentlessly targeted by al-Qa'ida and Taliban militants in their a bloody war against the Pakistani state.

The army has launched several offensives against the militants, but has also encouraged the formation of private armies to help the fight.

While the ceding of authority to armed civilians has alarmed human rights groups, the state has praised the role of the militias in battling the militants or holding ground retaken from them.

Police in Peshawar said late last year that the armies in Matani were essential in stopping militant infiltration into the city.

The militiamen operate from heavily fortified compounds in the region, and have seen their influence rise as they get state backing for taking on the Taliban. In interviews in December, commanders complained they were not getting enough government help, but claimed to have wrested Matani from militant control.

The army says it is winning the war against militants, but bombings still regularly occur in much of the country.

Yesterday, at least 20 people were killed in a car bombing in Punjab province.

Police and hospital officials later raised the death toll from the suicide blast to 36, with more than 100 wounded.

Witnesses said the bomber, who appeared to be in his late teens, showed up at the funeral just as it was about to begin.

"We thought this youth was coming to attend the funeral, but he suddenly detonated a bomb," said survivor Syed Alam Khan.

Another witness, Farman Ullah, complained that mourners had not received any security from the government or police for the funeral. "It was the duty of the government to provide us security, but it did not do it," he said.