Suicide bomber kills 38 at Pakistan political gathering

Map of Pakistan locating Lower Dir. A suicide bomber (AFP/Graphic)

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – A suicide bomber killed 38 people and wounded scores more at a celebration organised by the leading secular political party in northwest Pakistan on Monday, police said.

The suicide bomber attacked the open-air gathering in Timargarah, the main town in the district of Lower Dir, where Pakistan waged a major offensive against local Taliban insurgents last year.

Five blasts were also heard later on Monday in Peshawar, the main city in northwest Pakistan, but the cause was not immediately clear.

Residents in Timargarah reportedly said the bomb exploded close to the stage at the political gathering and police later confirmed it was a suicide attack.

"We have received 38 dead bodies," Doctor Wakeel Ahmed, head of the main hospital in Timargarah told AFP. "There are more than 100 injured. Most of them are in a serious condition. I'm still sending out my ambulance."

Timargarah police chief Mumtaz Zareen told AFP that it was a suicide attack, adding: "The man came on foot and detonated himself."

The Awami National Party (ANP), the secular political party that dominates government in North West Frontier Province organised the meeting to celebrate plans to rename the province Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.

The new name honours the Pashtun-majority population in the province and is set to replace a name that dates back to British colonial rule.

"Our party had arranged a thanksgiving day to celebrate the changing of the name after 200 years of colonial legacy," ANP spokesman Zahid Khan told Pakistan's private Geo television.

Security is precarious in parts of Pakistan, where more than 3,150 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks over the last three years.

Most of the violence has been concentrated in the northwest and has been blamed on militants opposed to Pakistan's alliance with the United States in the war on Al-Qaeda and against the Taliban in neighbouring Afghanistan.

Much of the instability stems from Pakistan's lawless tribal belt, which borders Lower Dir, and which Washington calls the most dangerous place on Earth, rife with homegrown Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters.

Suspected Taliban armed with petrol bombs and rockets attacked a terminal in the tribal district of Khyber before dawn on Monday, torching eight tankers used to supply fuel to NATO forces in Afghanistan, officials said.

Dozens of fighters launched the attack at Zakha Khel in the tribal district of Khyber, local administration chief Shafeerullah Wazir told AFP.

The tankers had recently returned from supplying NATO troops in Afghanistan, where around 126,000 foreign troops are trying to help the Western-backed government put down a nearly nine-year Taliban insurgency.

"There were eight oil tankers parked at the terminal and all were gutted," said another official, Rehan Gul Khattak. The attack was launched by Taliban militants, he added.

Taliban and other extremist outfits frequently attack vehicles travelling through Khyber on the main NATO land supply route through Pakistan into Afghanistan.

The district is part of Pakistan's lawless tribal belt along the Afghan border that Washington calls the most dangerous region on Earth, a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and a launch pad for attacks on NATO troops.

Under US pressure, Pakistan has in the past year significantly increased operations against militants in its tribal belt, following the 2009 offensive in Lower Dir and neighbouring districts Swat and Buner.

On February 3, a bomb blast claimed by the Taliban killed eight people in Lower Dir, including three US soldiers and children, at the opening of a school just rebuilt after an Islamist attack.

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