Anti-Taliban mayor among 12 killed in Pak bombing
A suicide car bomber struck near a busy cattle market in Pakistan's Peshawar city yesterday, killing 12 people including a former Taliban supporter turned anti-militant mayor while 20 militants were killed in ongoing offensive in northwest, police said.
The bomber also wounded 36 people outside a property of Mayor Abdul Malik on the outskirts of the northwest city troubled by Islamist militancy. Malik, one of a number of city mayors, had raised a militia against Taliban rebels.
Pakistan is currently waging a military offensive against the insurgents in their northwest mountain hideouts, incurring the wrath of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, which has retaliated with a wave of deadly attacks.
"The suicide bomber came in a car and exploded it when the mayor was standing with some visitors outside his guesthouse near the local livestock market," district administration chief Sahibzada Anis told AFP.
Doctor Muslim Khan at Peshawar's main Lady Reading hospital said that 12 people were killed and 36 wounded in the attack. Hospital officials said that two children were among the dead.
"Abdul Malik and a commander of the local anti-Taliban force are also among the dead," Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told AFP.
Malik, mayor of Adizai suburb on Peshawar's outskirts, once had close links to the hardline Taliban movement, but switched sides in 2008 and had raised a local force to battle the Islamist extremists on the fringes of the city.
The mayor had in the past survived a number of attempts on his life by his former allies, who are battling Pakistan's government and want to impose a harsh brand of Islamic law across swathes of the northwest.
The attacker detonated his explosives-packed car close to both Malik's guesthouse and the cattle market, littering the road with the corpses of cows and twisted metal from ruined vehicles, police and witnesses said.
Mahabat Khan, a 50-year-old livestock dealer, said he had just sold a buffalo and was talking to the buyer outside the market when a huge blast suddenly knocked him to the ground.
"It was a huge blast near us and my foot was injured," Khan told AFP from his hospital bed. "I heard gunshots after the blast."
Earlier 20 Taliban insurgents have been killed as Pakistan's military tries to consolidate gains in its offensive against the militants in the northwest tribal district, the army said Sunday.
"In the last 24 hours, 20 terrorists have been killed and eight soldiers including an officer were injured," the military said in its daily statement.
The military provides the only regular information coming from the frontlines. None of the details can be verified because communication lines are down and journalists and aid workers barred from the area.
Three militants were killed in gunfights as troops recovered a cache of arms and ammunition in the town of Sararogha, a former Taliban stronghold. The army said troops had "consolidated" positions there.
Another 12 militants were killed and eight soldiers injured in a battle near Kanigurram village -- which the army says they have captured -- while five more rebels were killed in fighting elsewhere in the region.
The tribal belt has been dubbed by Washington the most dangerous place in the world because of an abundance of al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of blasts and attacks killing more than 350 people since early October. In the deadliest attack in two years, a car bombing killed 118 people on October 28 in Peshawar, the northwest capital.
Islamabad has blamed the attacks on TTP militants avenging both the military offensive against them and the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone missile strike in the rugged northwest tribal belt in August.
Pakistan launched a fierce, US-endorsed air and ground offensive into South Waziristan on October 17, with some 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships laying siege to the Pakistan Taliban's boltholes.
The semi-autonomous tribal belt has become a bastion for Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels after the 2001 US-led invasion drove them out of Afghanistan, and Washington says the region is one of the world's most dangerous zones.
The long-awaited assault into the tribal region came after a spring offensive in and around the northwestern Swat valley, which the government declared a success in July. However, sporadic outbreaks of violence continue.
Military officials have encouraged local officials and tribal elders to raise militias -- known locally as lashkars -- to keep the rebels at bay.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan has been plagued by Islamist militancy for years, with more that 2,425 people killed in attacks since July 2007.