A suicide bomber riding a motorcycle attacked a police checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan on Wednesday, striking amid a crowd gathered along the road to greet a prominent hardline Islamist politician and killing 13 people, police said.
It was unclear if the bomber specifically targeted the supporters of politician Maulana Fazlur Rehman or if they just happened to be there when he hit the checkpoint. Rehman has been an outspoken supporter of the Afghan Taliban, but some militants in Pakistan have shown a willingness to attack anyone connected to the government.
The bomber detonated his explosives just outside the checkpoint when a policeman told him to halt, said Saeed Khan, a police official at the main communications center in Peshawar city. The blast killed the policeman and 12 other civilians nearby, said Khan. Another 12 people were wounded.
The attack occurred in Swabi town, located some 44 miles (70 kilometers) outside the capital Islamabad. Rehman, the leader of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, passed through the checkpoint only minutes before the bomber struck and was unharmed, said Khan. Rehman was traveling to Charsadda town to address a public gathering.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. An attack targeting Rehman or his supporters would be unusual _ but not unheard of _ because of their hardline Islamist views.
The most prominent militant sympathizer reportedly killed by insurgents was former Pakistani spy Sultan Amir Tarar _ better known as Col. Imam _ who helped the Taliban rise to power in Afghanistan in the 1990s.
The Pakistani Taliban said in February that they shot and killed Tarar after holding him captive for 10 months in northwest Pakistan because the government failed to meet their demands. The Pakistani Taliban has links to its Afghan brethren but is focused on fighting the Pakistani state.
The Pakistani government disputed the Taliban's claims, saying Tarar died of a heart attack in January while in captivity.
About a year ago, a suicide bomber attacked a rally being held by the Jamat-e-Islami party, another Islamist group that is sympathetic to many of the goals of the Taliban and regularly criticizes army operations against them. The attack killed more than 20 police and civilians. Police speculated the target may have been officers watching over the rally.
Munir Ahmed contributed to this report from Islamabad.