Pakistan security officials said Saturday that several suspects were arrested in the suicide bombing that killed 56 people but missed the target, a close ally of President Pervez Musharraf.
A file photo shows then Pakistani former interior minister Aftab Sherpao in Islamabad. Pakistan security officials said that several suspects were arrested in the suicide bombing that killed 56 people but missed the target, Sherpao, a close ally of President Pervez Musharraf.(AFP/File/Aamir Qureshi) (AFP/Muhammad Sabri)(AFP/Shah Marai)
The announcement came as grisly new details emerged about the attack, which saw the bomber pack his suicide vest with ball-bearings to inflict as many casualties as possible.
Friday's bombing, one of the worst suicide attacks in Pakistan's troubled history, targeted Musharraf's former interior minister Aftab Sherpao, who led a government crackdown on Islamic militants.
"We have arrested several people," said one of the officials, who asked not to be named. "We have made important progress in the investigation and we hope to hunt down culprits."
The attack was condemned by the United Nations and the United States, which counts Musharraf as a pivotal ally in its "war on terror" campaign against Islamic militancy.
The carnage has raised fears of more bloodshed in the run-up to the January 8 parliamentary elections -- which are already under intense international scrutiny after allegations Musharraf's allies will try to rig the ballot.
Police said Saturday they had found two severed legs believed to be those of the suicide bomber and that they were conducting DNA tests.
"A team of experts is conducting a high-level investigation into the incident," police officer Gulzar Ahmed told AFP.
A doctor at the main hospital in the northwest town of Charsadda, where the attack occurred, said that many of the victims had bled to death after being hit by shrapnel.
"Many were hit by ball-bearings packed into the bomber's suicide jacket," doctor Manzoor Khan told AFP.
More than 120 people were injured in the attack and two more died overnight, bringing the death toll to 56, said Kamal Shah, health minister of restive North West Frontier Province along the border with Afghanistan.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, on a lightning visit to Afghanistan on Saturday, said Pakistan had to "engage resolutely in the fight against terrorism". Militants are said to cross between the borders.
Militant groups, targeted in a campaign led by Sherpao until Musharraf appointed a new caretaker government last month before the vote, have vowed to disrupt the Pakistan elections.
But Musharraf pledged he would not yield to what he called the "distorted thinking" of the militants, who attacked Friday while Muslims were marking one of the most important holidays of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha.
The United States said the attack was "even more disturbing during such a special holiday" and sent its condolences to the families of the victims.
"Violence for political gain is never justified," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "Terrorists continue to use violent tactics to foster fear and limit freedom."
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and urged all political forces in Pakistan "to unite against the scourge of terrorism and to act together to create a peaceful environment" ahead of next month's elections.
The latest suicide attack was the fourth to hit Pakistan since December 14, a day before Musharraf lifted a controversial state of emergency.
Musharraf cited the threat of Islamist violence when he imposed emergency rule on November 3. But in a speech to the nation after he lifted the emergency last Saturday, he said the threat had been contained.
"The wave of terrorism and militancy has been stopped under the emergency and there has been considerable improvement in the overall situation," Musharraf said.