18 killed in Pakistan suicide attack (Second lead)

October 6th, 2008 - 11:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Nawaz SharifIslamabad, Oct 6 (DPA) At least 18 people were killed and more than 40 injured Monday in a suicide bomb attack at the guest house of a lawmaker in Pakistan’s Punjab province, the police said.The explosion occurred when Rashid Akbar Nawani, a member of the lower house of Pakistan’s parliament, the National Assembly, was meeting supporters at the courtyard of the house in Bhakkar district, some 325 km west of the provincial capital Lahore.

Nawani, who is a member of former prime minister Nawaz Sharif’s right- wing Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, survived the attack and was moved to hospital with minor injuries, according to Shaukat Javed, Punjab police chief.

“The attacker who was in his 30s sneaked into the crowd and blew himself up after he failed to get closer to Mr Nawani,” said Bhakkar Deputy Police Superintendent Khadim Hussain.

The head of the District Headquarters Hospital said 18 bodies were brought to the medical facility, while more than 40 injured were being treated there.

Some other local media outlets reported a higher death toll, varying from 20 to 30 and the number of injured between 50 and 60.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the suicide bombing but a security official said it could be linked with ongoing sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni extremists in neighbouring North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).

Nawani has been active in the Shia community of Bhakkar district. He is the third legislator who has come under attack in less than a week.

Sunday evening, rockets fired by suspected Islamist rebels landed near the family home of NWFP Chief Minister Amir Haider Khan Hoti in the town of Mardan.

Three days prior to that attack, a suicide bomber blew himself up in Charsadda district among a crowd greeting the chief of NWFP’s ruling Awami National Party (ANP), Asfandyar Wali, who escaped unharmed while five others were killed.

A Taliban spokesman, who identified himself only with the first name Mohammad, told the BBC’s Urdu service that his comrades had carried out the attacks on Wali and Hoti’s home to avenge ongoing security operations against the insurgents.

The secular leftist ANP launched peace talks with the militants after it took over politically in NWFP following victory against the Islamist parties in Feb 18 elections. The negotiations however did not stop militant violence that has claimed more than 4,000 lives across Pakistan in last two years.

Following the failure of the talks in tribal areas and NWFP, the provincial and federal governments launched major offensives in various areas, including Bajaur, where security forces killed six Islamic militants in an overnight operation.

Government forces have deployed jet fighters, helicopter gunships and artillery to pound the fortified positions of the rebels who are offering strong resistance since the offensive was launched in early August.

Fierce clashes over the last two months have killed between 500 and 1,000 rebels and more than two dozen troops, besides causing unknown number of civilian casualties.

The military action has triggered a spate of attacks on troops and senior government officials in the northwestern region.

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