KHAR, PAKISTAN // A suicide bomber struck outside a government office in a tribal region where Pakistan's army has fought the Taliban, killing at least 48 people and wounding about 80 others today. The attack indicated that militants remain a potent force in Pakistan's tribal belt bordering Afghanistan, despite facing army offensives. The US has praised Pakistan for taking on extremists that use the tribal region to plan attacks on Western troops across the border, but the militants have often retaliated on Pakistani soil.
The bomber detonated his explosives near the Yakaghund village office of the Mohmand tribal region's assistant political agent - a top administrator in the area, security official Esa Khan said. Mr Khan said the bomber was on a motorcycle, but government official Meraj Din said the attacker was on foot and exploded his weapons when asked to stop before entering the assistant political agent's office. He put the death toll at 48, and other officials said at least 80 people were wounded.
The blast destroyed shops, government offices and a small prison, Khan said. Footage from the area showed dozens of men pouring through piles of yellow brick and mud rubble in search of survivors. "After the blast, I saw destruction. I saw bodies everywhere. I saw the injured crying for help," Mr Khan said in the main northwest city of Peshawar, where he helped escort some of the wounded to a hospital.
Nineteen-year-old Abdul Wadood was sitting in a vehicle nearby when the attack happened. "I only heard the deafening blast and lost consciousness," he said, while being treated for head and arm wounds in Peshawar. "I found myself on a hospital bed after opening my eyes. "I think those who planned or carried out this attack are not humans."
Mohmand is one of several areas in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where Taliban and al Qa'eda are believed to be hiding. The Pakistani army has carried out operations in Mohmand, but it has been unable to extirpate the militants. Information from Mohmand is difficult to verify independently because access to the area is heavily restricted. * AP