Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pakistan police raid US-employed security firm

ISLAMABAD (Map, News) -
Pakistani police say they have raided a local security firm that has a contract with the U.S. Embassy.

Islamabad police official Rana Akram says the Inter-Risk firm is accused of illegal weapons possession.

The raid Saturday comes amid intense coverage in the local media of American use of private security firms in the country, much of it negative.

Akram says police found 61 assault rifles and nine pistols that were allegedly unlicensed.

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U.S. Embassy spokesman Rick Snelsire says the embassy's contract with the firm took effect at the start of this year.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) - A bombing at a mosque in northwestern Pakistan killed a prominent Sunni Muslim official just hours after a suicide attack in a nearby Shiite Muslim-dominated village left 40 dead, police said Saturday.

It was not immediately clear if the 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 - 18 pounds (eight kilograms) of explosives detonated by remote control - brought its roof crashing down on him, Jamal said.

The mayor was affiliated with Jamaat Ulema Islam, an Islamist party in the government.

Meanwhile, the death toll from an overnight suicide car bombing at a hotel in the northwestern village of Usterzai on the outskirts of Kohat jumped from 29 to 40. Five of the injured died in a hospital and rescuers retrieved six more bodies from rubble of the two-story Hikmat Ali Hotel, area police Chief Ali Hassan said.

The hotel - owned by a Shiite - was among several buildings destroyed or badly damaged in the attack.

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 organization 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.

On Thursday, six people were wounded when a bomb planted outside a shop in Kohat's main bazaar exploded.


Associated Press writer Inamur Rehman in Kohat contributed to this report.

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