Suicide bomber kills 17 in attack on tribal militia

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The Independent Online

A suicide bomber attacked a gathering of anti-militant Pakistani tribesmen yesterday, killing 17 and leaving at least 39 wounded in a north-west region where the military has clashed with insurgents for months.

The attack, in the Batmalai area of the Bajur tribal region, was the latest to target tribal militias that have sprung up – with government backing – to take on al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters based along the Afghan border.

A purported spokesman for a little-known Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility. Pakistan launched an offensive in Bajur three months ago to dismantle what it said was a virtual Taliban mini-state from where militants were flowing into Afghanistan. The Salarzai tribesmen were preparing to assault militant hideouts when the bomber struck. Malik Rahimullah, a tribal elder, said the bomb exploded as soon as armed contingents began to move.

Initially, it was thought to be a remote-controlled device, but mutilated body parts of an apparent suicide bomber were found, and witnesses said they saw a young man rushing into the crowd before the explosion.

Amir Khan, a tribesman, said several tribal elders who were instrumental in starting the militia were among the dead. The army claims to have killed 1,500 insurgents in the Bajur offensive. At least 73 troops and 95 civilians have also died, it says.