Suicide bomber kills 75 at Pakistan volleyball match
A suicide bomber in a vehicle blew himself up at a volleyball game in northwest Pakistan yesterday, killing more than 75 people.
Police said that dozens of people in a village that opposes al-Qa'ida-linked Taliban rebels were slaughtered. The death toll was 75 but emergency services said that the number could rise. Local television station Express 24/7 said at least 75 people were killed.
"It's just a disaster. I can see flesh, bodies and wounded all around," eye-witness Fazl-e-Akbar said. "It's dark. Vehicles' headlights are being used to search for victims."
The bomber struck as young men played volleyball in front of a crowd of spectators, including elderly residents and children, near the town of Lakki Marwat, officials said.
The bloodshed will put Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari's efforts to fight the Taliban under scrutiny again.
Local police chief Ayub Khan said the bomber blew himself up in an SUV in the middle of the field and there was believed to be a second vehicle which fled the scene.
"One was blown up here while the second fled to an unknown location. We believe it may be used to attack some other place," Mr Khan said.
It was one of the bloodiest attacks in US-ally Pakistan since the October 2007 attack on the country's former prime minister Benazir Bhutto, Mr Zardari's wife, on her return home from self-imposed exile that killed at least 139 people.
An attack on a sporting event is highly unusual, but could be part of the militants' strategy of bombing crowded areas such as markets to inflict mass killings and spread fear and chaos. Police said the village had formed an armed anti-Taliban militia, a phenomenon that started in Pakistan last year.
Despite major military offensives against their strongholds, the Taliban have killed hundreds of people in bombings since October, challenging Mr Zardari who faces political heat because corruption charges against his aides could be revived.
In a sign of growing security fears, the United Nations will withdraw some of its staff from Pakistan, a UN spokeswoman said yesterday.
Khalid Israr, a senior regional official who spoke to reporters by telephone from a hospital treating blast victims, said frantic efforts were under way to save villagers trapped under rubble. "It is a small village with very few rescue facilities. Rescue equipment is being sent there from other places."
Violence has intensified since July 2007 when the army cleared militants from a radical mosque in Islamabad. However, Pakistan's security policies are set by an all-powerful military, which nurtured the militants in the 1980s to fight Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan.
Washington wants the military to root out militants who cross into Afghanistan to attack US- and NATO-led troops. But doing so would require strategic sacrifices. Washington, frustrated by what it says are inadequate efforts to wipe out the militants, has stepped up pilotless US drone aircraft attacks on Taliban and al-Qa'ida fighters in Pakistan.
While the strikes killed high-profile al-Qa'ida and Taliban figures, they have also generated anti-American anger, making it extremely difficult for Mr Zardari to accommodate his US supporters.
The latest attack came on a day of strikes in the southern city of Karachi, the country's biggest and its commercial capital, to denounce violence gripping the nuclear-armed nation.
The strikes were called by religious and political leaders after a suicide bomber killed 43 people at a religious procession on Monday. The Taliban claimed responsibility and threatened more violence.