Pakistan's First Female Suicide Bomb Attack Kills 15
A woman detonated explosives hidden under her burqa at a police checkpoint Monday, killing herself and 14 others in what officials said is Pakistan's first female suicide attack.
The blast in the troubled town of Bannu comes five days before President Gen. Pervez Musharraf stands for re-election and underscores the growing Islamic militant threat in Pakistan.
Militants also attacked a security post elsewhere in the northwestern region later in the day. Officials said they feared that 24 policemen were captured.
No Claim of Responsibility
The suicide bomber was in a rickshaw that was stopped by police at a checkpoint in Bannu, said local police chief Ameer Hamza Mahsud.
He said investigators had determined that the bomber was a woman who wore the head-to-toe burqa veil common in Pakistan's northwest and in neighboring Afghanistan.
There was no claim of responsibility.
Mahsud said forensic experts will examine the attacker's dismembered body for clues to her identity. He said it was possible that the bomber came from the nearby tribal belt along the Afghan frontier, where militants affiliated with the Taliban and al-Qaida have seized considerable control.
While there have been reports of women being trained to carry out suicide bombings in Pakistan, Monday's blast appeared to be the first confirmation of such an attack in either Pakistan or Afghanistan.
Army spokesman Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad said the dead in Bannu included four police officers and 11 other people, among them the bomber. Mahsud said many of the casualties had been crowded around a nearby bus stop.
Security Post Also Attacked
Some 150 militants attacked the Richi Fort security post on Monday evening with rockets and gunfire, according to an intelligence official.
The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly, said the insurgents overran the post and captured 24 paramilitary police officers. Arshad confirmed the attack, but he said he had no confirmation that anyone was captured.
Bannu is near the North Waziristan tribal region, about 110 miles south of Peshawar.
Peace Deal's Demise Spurs Violence
Militants have staged almost daily attacks on security forces in North Waziristan and surrounding areas since the breakdown of a 2006 peace agreement several months ago.
The agreement had drawn criticism from United States officials, who said that it gave al-Qaida an opportunity to regroup and plot new attacks on the West.
But the deal's demise and a wave of violence, including suicide attacks in otherwise peaceful parts of Pakistan, have fanned concerns that the country is sacrificing its stability at the behest of Washington.
That debate has tarnished the standing of Musharraf, but not deterred him from seeking another five-year presidential term.
Musharraf Allies Confident of Victory
Allies of Musharraf, who took power in a 1999 coup, are confident that he will win Saturday's ballot among federal and provincial lawmakers, despite bitter opposition.
The general wants to be re-elected while he is still army chief. Opponents claim that would violate the constitution, although Musharraf has pledged to give up his powerful military post if he wins.
They also accuse him of using authoritarian tactics to stifle dissent.
On Monday, the Pakistan Supreme Court ordered three officials suspended after 83 people, including dozens of journalists and lawyers, were hurt when police used batons and tear gas during an anti-Musharraf protest.
Judges watched television footage of the clashes on a screen set up in a courtroom packed with victims, some with bandages on their arms and heads.
Government officials said they had complied with the court's order to suspend Islamabad's city and district police chiefs as well as the deputy head of the municipal administration pending an investigation.
Pakistan's turbulent 60-year history has been punctuated by political violence. However, the Foreign Ministry said the latest outburst harmed the country's image.
"This is not what Pakistan is all about. We are a far more tolerant people and it was an aberration, I hope," ministry spokesman Tasnim Aslam said.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press
Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.