A suicide bomber attacked a funeral attended by anti-Taliban militiamen in northwest Pakistan on Wednesday, killing at least 36 mourners and wounding more than 100 others, police and hospital 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. The area is home to several tribal armies that battle the Taliban and receive government support for doing so. Like elsewhere in the northwest, the militias have been relentlessly targeted by the insurgents.
Police officer Zahid Khan said around 300 people were attending the funeral for the wife of a militiaman 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.
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 Alem Khan. (CBC) Another witness, Farman Ullah, complained that they 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. (CBC)
The procession was on its way to the cemetery when the attack took place. “As we were readying for prayers, a boy wrapped in a shawl headed towards us. People shouted to the imam (prayer leader) to wait for him to join us but as he came close he blew himself up,” witness Mehmood Shah told the Reuters news agency. (BBC)
Jamal Shah, a doctor at the main hospital in Peshawar, said so far it had received 36 bodies and more than 100 wounded in the blast.
“It was like doomsday… There were dead and injured lying all around,” said resident Anwar Khan, who went to help after the blast. (Reuters)
Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants are waging a bloody war against the Pakistani state from their bases in the northwest. A spokesman for the Taliban told the BBC that they had carried out the bombing. He said it was in retaliation for the support by local tribal militia of the continuing anti-Taliban operation by Pakistan’s security forces.
“These lashkars are raised to create chaos instead of maintaining peace,” militant spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location. “The lashkars and the army are fighting us at the behest of the Americans. We will continue attacks on them.” (Reuters)
The army has launched several offenses against the militants, but has also encouraged the formation of private armies to help out in 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.
Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani condemned the blast. A statement released by his office “reiterated the government’s resolve to root out the cancer of terrorism from every nook and corner of the country.” (New York Times)
“The Taliban may be down but certainly not out,” said Omar R. Quereshi, the opinion pages editor of the Express Tribune, an English-language newspaper based in Karachi. “And this targeting of anti-Taliban people who have been fighting them will drive home that message very hard, especially following on the last blast in Faisalabad… It shows the vulnerability of those whom the government asks to fight the Taliban and who are then left to their own devices,” he said. (New York Times)
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 that they were not getting enough government help, but claimed to have wrestled Matani from militant control. The army says it is winning the war against militants, but bombings still regularly occur in much of the country. On Tuesday, at least 20 people were killed in a car bombing in Punjab province.