By Ayaz Gul
Authorities in northwestern Pakistan say a suspected suicide blast has killed at least 41 people and wounded scores. The attack comes a day after Taliban insurgents launched coordinated assaults on security forces in a neighboring district that left 11 soldiers and 24 militants dead. Ayaz Gul has the details from Islamabad.
The suicide bombing occurred in the town of Khar, the administrative center of Pakistan’s insurgency-hit Bajaur district on the Afghan border.
Witnesses say the powerful explosion instantly killed more than 30 people while others died of their wounds in a government-run hospital.
The bomber targeted a crowd of people receiving aid from a distribution facility the World Food Program set up to help families displaced by fighting.
A spokesman for the WFP in Pakistan, Amjad Jamal, says no staff member from his organization was hurt in the attack. Most of the victims were from conflict-hit families identified as IDPs, or internally displaced persons. He says the bomb was detonated in part of the main compound where people were being screened for security checks.
“This was a food distribution site which we had established for IDPs who had recently returned (to their homes from refugee camps). Two-to-three-hundred people were present and they are getting their food coupons to get their food ration, which the WFP is distributing in that area,” he said.
The deadly bombing came a day after a clash between Pakistani Taliban insurgents and security forces in the neighboring Mohmand district left 11 soldiers and 24 militants dead.
The Pakistan army has mounted a series of anti-insurgency offensives to clear militants from the Bajaur and Mohmand tribal areas.
Authorities say the military actions have killed hundreds of militants and captured their strongholds. But security analysts say that by stepping up their attacks, the insurgents have shown the ability to strike back in both the border districts.
The anti-insurgency operations displaced tens of thousands of Pakistani families, but a large number of them have returned to their home in recent months.
Speaking to VOA’s Urdu language service, the Pakistani military spokesman, Major General Atthar Abbas, says that militants have taken refuge in the eastern Afghan province of Kunar after fleeing the anti-insurgency operations in the two districts.
He says the militants are using these bases to launch attacks inside Pakistan and security forces have been unable to stop these cross-border activities.
Afghan and U.S.-led coalition forces are stationed on the Afghan side of the border to fight Taliban militants.