Suicide bomb kills 56, wounds dozens in NW Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (Reuters) – A suicide bomber on  a motorbike killed at least 56 people, including women and  children, in an attack in a volatile Pashtun region on the  Afghan border yesterday, officials said. 

The bomber blew himself up as hundreds of people were  gathered around the office of a senior government official in  Pakistan’s northwestern Mohmand region, where security forces  have stepped up attacks on Taliban militants in recent weeks.  

“The death toll has risen to 56. It could be more as people  are still pulling out people trapped in the rubble of fallen  shops,” Rasool Khan, the region’s assistant political agent,  told Reuters. The attack took place outside his office.  

Hospital officials said nearly 80 people were wounded,  while government officials put the number at about 50.  
Among the wounded were several people displaced by fighting  between security forces and militants, who were collecting  relief goods near the blast site. Residents said five children,  aged between 5 and 10, and several women were among dead. 
“I was standing about 200 yards (metres) away from the  office when I heard the blast. I don’t know how it happened but  I could see several bodies lying on the ground after the  explosion and people running in all directions,” said Riaz  Hussain, a witness.  

Television footage showed victims being pulled out of the  debris. The blast also damaged several cars and about 30 shops,  witnesses said. A security official at the scene said the blast also  damaged a nearby prison wall and several inmates had escaped. 
Pakistan launched two major offensives in the northwest  last year against homegrown Taliban militants who have killed  hundreds of people in retaliatory attacks across Pakistan,  mostly in the northwest, but also in major cities.  

Two suicide bombers killed at leat 42 people in an attack  on Pakistan’s most important Sufi shrine in the eastern city of  Lahore last week.  

 The Pakistani Taliban, allies of the Afghan Taliban, have  lost ground in army offensives over the past year.  
They were pushed out of the Swat valley, northwest of  Islamabad, and in October the army began an offensive in the  militants’ South Waziristan bastion on the Afghan border. 
The offensive was extended to Orakzai in March as many of  the militants who fled the South Waziristan operation took  refuge there and in Mohmand. Hundreds of militants have since  been killed in air strikes in the two regions.  

Jet fighters killed about a dozen militants in attacks in  Orakzai on Friday, security officials said. There was no  independent verification of the casualties as militants often  dispute and reject official figures.