Sunday, September 20, 2009
Bomb kills local mayor in northwest Pakistan
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Map, News) -
A bombing at a mosque in northwest Pakistan killed a prominent Sunni Muslim official just hours after a suicide attack in a nearby Shiite Muslim-dominated village left 29 dead, police said Saturday.
It was not immediately clear if two were linked, but the mosque bomb Friday was the third blast in the area in two days, underscoring the relentless security threat in a region riddled with Taliban and al-Qaida and simmering with sectarian tension.
The bomb went off at the mosque in Och village near Hangu town before midnight, killing district mayor Haji Khan Afzal and wounding three other people, police official Gul Jamal said.
Afzal was apparently praying at the mosque when the blast - eight kilograms of explosives detonated by remote control - brought its roof crashing down onto him, Jamal said.
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The mayor was affiliated with Jamaat Ulema Islam, an Islamist party in the government.
Earlier Friday, a suicide car bomber rammed into the two-story Hikmat Ali Hotel on the outskirts of Kohat town in Usterzai village, killing 29 people and wounding 55 others. The hotel - owned by a Shiite - was among several buildings destroyed or badly damaged, police official Asmat Ullah said.
Local media reported that a little known group calling itself Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Almi claimed responsibility. It is possible the group is linked to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a banned Sunni extremist outfit with ties to al-Qaida.
The Taliban and al-Qaida believe Shiite Muslims are infidels, and their influence has fueled sectarian attacks that have long plagued Pakistan. The latest assaults came just days before Muslims from both sects celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.
"When the clouds of dust cleared, I saw the dead bodies and the pieces of bodies all around, and everywhere there was blood and wounded people. They were crying," Wagar Ali, who was wounded in the blast, told AP Television News.
TV footage showed some of the wounded in hospital beds and on stretchers. The victims were bloodied, bandaged and seemingly in shock.
Vegetable seller Madad Ali, hurt in the explosion, said he saw the suicide bomber approaching.
"I was working when I saw a van come from the Kohat road. Inside was a man with a beard, and he blew himself up with a very powerful blast," said Ali. "The roof of the shop came in on me and I was stuck underneath. People started to dig us out from the rubble."
Pakistan has launched several offensives against extremist groups in the area over the past year, but attacks persist.
The U.S. is particularly anxious for Pakistan to clamp down on insurgents it blames for attacks on American and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan.
Kohat police official Ali Hasan Khan said four more bodies were retrieved from the rubble of the car bombing late Friday, raising the death toll to 29. Another 55 people were wounded and hospitalized, Khan said.
On Thursday, six people were wounded when a bomb planted outside a shop in Kohat's main bazaar exploded.
Associated Press Writer Inamur Rehman contributed to this report from Kohat.