Carnage at anti-Taliban office as 17 are killed
Police still hold suspects in probe into shooting of schoolgirl Malala
A car bomb tore through a crowded bazaar outside an office for anti-Taliban tribal elders in north-western Pakistan yesterday, killing at least 17 people, officials said.
The blast in the town of Darra Adam Khel was the latest to strike the troubled area near the Afghan border, showing militants still pose a threat to the stability of key US ally Pakistan despite government offensives against the Taliban and their supporters.
No group immediately claimed responsibility, but the Pakistani Taliban have staged similar attacks in the tribal region of Darra Adam Khel to punish elders for backing security forces in offensives against militants.
The explosives-laden car was parked near the office of one of the so-called peace committees formed by local elders to rid the area of militants, regional government administrator Fakhruddin Khan said.
It was unclear how many people were in the office at the time, but Khan said those killed included tribal elders and passers-by.
He said 40 people were also wounded and the attack destroyed 35 shops and eight vehicles. The dead and wounded, including some in critical condition, had been transported to hospitals in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
The region, which is in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, is famous for its weapons market, selling guns made by local craftsmen.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain blamed the Pakistani Taliban, noting the fundamentalist Islamic movement had also tried to kill a 14-year-old girl who is an advocate of education for girls and a critic of the Taliban. Malala Yousufzai was shot and wounded by a Taliban gunman in the Swat Valley last Tuesday.
The attack has drawn widespread condemnation.
Mr Hussain urged the federal government to consider launching a "decisive operation against terrorists" to eliminate the militants.
"These Taliban have killed our innocent people in so many attacks. They are still killing our people. Instead of wasting time, we should hit them back, and we should do it as early as possible to save the precious lives of our innocent girls like Malala Yousufzai," he told reporters in Peshawar.
Meanwhile, Pakistani police were still holding a number of suspects in the case of the 14-year-old girl shot and wounded by the Taliban for criticising the fundamentalist Islamic movement.
The shooting of Malala Yousufzai along with two classmates while they were on their way home from school last Tuesday horrified people in Pakistan and internationally. It has been followed by an outpouring of support for a girl who earned the enmity of the Taliban for publicising their acts and speaking about the importance of education for girls.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility for the shooting, saying that the girl was promoting "Western thinking". Late last Thursday, a spokesman for one of the group's branches in the country's north said the top leadership of the Taliban's Swat Valley chapter decided two months ago to kill Malala in a carefully planned attack after her family ignored repeated warnings.
Police have been questioning people in the town of Mingora, in the Swat Valley, where the shooting took place.
Mingora police chief Afzal Khan Afridi said arrests had been made, but he declined to give any details about the number of people detained or what role they're suspected of having in the shooting. He said he did not want to endanger the ongoing investigation.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik told reporters on Friday that the two gunmen who staged the attack were not among those arrested, but he said investigators had identified the masterminds of the shooting and efforts were under way to capture all those involved.
The Taliban spokesman, Sirajuddin Ahmad, said Malala's family had been warned three times -- the most recent warning coming last week -- before the decision was made to kill her.
Mr Ahmad said local Taliban leader Maulana Fazlullah and his deputies selected three attackers, including two trained sharpshooters, who carefully studied the girl's route home from school while planning the attack.