Suicide bomber kills 50 in Pakistan mosque
At least 50 people were killed when a suicide bomber exploded a device packed with ball bearings and nails in a mosque full of worshippers in an apparent assassination attempt on Pakistan's former interior minister.
With the mosque full of people celebrating the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, the bomber mingled with the worshippers and then triggered his explosives. Bloodied clothes and pieces of flesh were strewn around the mosque.
While the former minister, Aftab Khan Sherpao, was unhurt, several policemen who were guarding him as he prayed in the front row were killed. More than 100 other people were injured. "We were saying prayers when this huge explosion occurred," said one survivor, Shaukat Ali. A security official said the bomb contained up to 17lb of explosives and was filled with nails and steel balls.
While there was no claim of responsibility for the attack, several hours after the bombing security officers raided an Islamic school in a nearby village and arrested seven students, some of them said to be Afghans.
Yesterday's attack, in the village of Sherpao, 25 miles from Peshawar, was not the first time Mr Sherpao has been targeted. In April, he was slightly wounded by another suicide bomber in one of many attacks carried out by Islamic militants who have targeted senior figures within the government of President Pervez Musharraf. Last month three people were killed after a bomb exploded outside the house of Amir Muqam, a minister of political affairs; President Musharraf and the former prime minister Shaukat Aziz have also narrowly escaped similar attacks.
While highlighting the ongoing threat of the Islamist extremists in Pakistan, yesterday's attack also raises fresh fears about the environment in which next month's scheduled parliamentary elections will take place. The government has banned all public processions by political parties, claiming that in the light of the attack on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto in September, when 140 supporters of the Pakistan's People's Party (PPP) leader were killed in Karachi, such convoys are easy targets.
Islamist attacks, thought to have been orchestrated from the tribal belt along the Afghan border, have grown in frequency since the Pakistan army laid siege to the Red Mosque in Islamabad in July, killing more than 100 people.
While the bulk of these attacks have taken place in the troubled North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), members of the army, police and intelligence agencies have been targeted as far as Islamabad, the nearby town of Rawalpindi and parts of Punjab.
Mr Sherpao, the 63-year-old leader of a breakaway faction of the PPP loyal to President Musharraf, was one of the most prominent faces of the general's campaign against Islamist militancy. He has also served as chief minister of the NWFP in both of Ms Bhutto's governments and joined President Musharraf's government in 2002.