Pakistan police fear more suicide bombings

Suspected Islamist militants target provincial minister outspoken in his criticism of Taliban.

Police were warning people in a Pakistani town hit by a suicide bomber who killed seven and wounded 25 to stay at home as a hunt was conducted for two more suspected bombers in the area. Senior police official Liaquat Ali Khan said: "I would like to appeal to the public to please avoid gatherings. Everybody please stay at home. We have launched a search operation." The bomber struck today in the town of Pabbi near the home of a Pakistani provincial minister whose only son was killed on Saturday by suspected Islamist militants, officials said.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the information minister of Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa province and an outspoken critic of the Taliban, was the apparent target. He was receiving condolences from visitors elsewhere in Pabbi town at the time of the blast and was safe. Some of his relatives were also receiving mourners at a mosque near the house, but none were hurt, police said. The attack showed the dangers facing those in Pakistan who take high-profile positions against the militants who have wreaked havoc in the country over the last several years. Mr Hussain is frequently the official who shows up at the scenes of bombings in the northwestern province to condemn the Taliban and allied insurgent groups.

On Saturday, his son, Rashid Hussain, was gunned down in the same area of Nowshera district. Some local media reported that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility for that attack. The suicide bomber today was on a motorcycle and was rushing toward the minister's home when intercepted by security officials, Mr Khan said. The bomber, believed to be a young boy, then set off his explosives.

Lawang Shah, 50, whose arms and foot were wounded, said: "It was a big bang. Everybody ran in frenzy. People were crying." Three police were among those killed by the blast. The victims also included two children. One was eight-year-old, Aashi Rehman, whose father Mehar beat his chest and railed against militants as her half-burned body lay at the local hospital. "She was innocent," Mr Rehman said. "She had nothing against anybody."

Mr Khan said 10 kilograms of explosives were believed to have been used in the attack and that police suspect two more suicide bombers were still in the area. A local hospital official, identified on TV reports only as Dr Akbar, said seven bodies had arrived. Another hospital official, Tariq Khan said of 25 people wounded, eight were in critical condition. Though no group immediately claimed responsibility for today's strike, Bashir Bilour, a senior provincial minister, blamed the Taliban.

"It is a third world war, and we are the front line," he said. * AP