Suicide bombing in Pakistani hospital kills 23 (Lead)

August 19th, 2008 - 10:24 pm ICT by IANS  

Islamabad, Aug 19 (DPA) At least 23 people, including two policemen, were killed when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a hospital in Pakistan’s restive North West Frontier Province (NWFP), officials said.Pro-Taliban militants accepted responsibility for the attack in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, some 300 km south of the provincial capital Peshawar.

The blast occurred outside the emergency ward of the hospital where a crowd of mostly Shia Muslims had gathered to protest the assassination of their leader, Asif Shah, by unknown gunmen riding a motorbike earlier in the day.

“Twenty-three people have been confirmed killed,” NWFP police chief Naveed Malik said. Fifteen people were seriously wounded, but the number of injured could be higher as many were immediately moved to various hospitals, he added.

According to the Urdu-language Aaj news channel, 14 of the victims belonged to the same family.

The town mayor, Haji Abdul Rauf, said it was a suicide bombing carried out by a teenager. Aaj reported the police had found the limbs and head of the suspected bomber.

A security official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said preliminary findings revealed that it was a very well-organised attack.

“The miscreants attracted a large Shia crowd at the hospital by killing one of their leaders and then carried out the suicide bombing, maximising the damage.”

Two junior policemen killed in the blast were part of a team investigating the murder.

A spokesman for a militant umbrella organisation, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the bombing.

“More such attacks will be carried out if the (military) operation in Bajaur and Swat districts are not halted,” Maulvi Omar was quoted as saying by English-language DawnNews television channel.

The attack came hours after the TTP deadline of halting ongoing security offensive expired at 09.00 a.m. (0300 GMT) Tuesday morning.

“We will launch countrywide attacks on government installations for which the government would be responsible,” Omar told the daily News Monday.

Pakistan’s new civilian government launched peace talks with the militants in March, after coming into power following the Feb 18 elections.

Although the move helped reduce the suicide bombings that had killed more than 4,000 people in 2007 and early 2008, it did not completely ceased the violence.

The government last month resumed army offensives in troubled Swat valley and the Bajaur, where hundreds of people, including dozens of troops have died.

Fresh clashes in Bajaur killed more 25 people, some of them civilians, as security forces repelled a militant raid on a paramilitary base in Nawagai area, DawnNews reported.

Five soldiers were also injured in the attack, according to the report.

Taliban rebels belong to majority Sunni Muslim population of Pakistan. They support the extremist groups from their sect that have carried out several attacks on minority Shia groups across the country, including Dera Ismail Khan.

The conflict between warring factions has also intensified in the nearby Kurram tribal district, where 16 people died Tuesday when heavily armed fighters from the rival sects targeted each other’s positions, taking the death toll in the clashes to more than 200.

Hundreds more are said to be injured in the fighting that has been going on for more than two weeks.

A 72-hour deadline given by Rehman Malik, the prime minister’s adviser on interior affairs, to the two factions to end the conflicts expired Monday unheeded.

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