Suicide bomber kills 21 in NW Pakistan

Reuters News
Posted: Feb 17, 2012 7:24 AM
Suicide bomber kills 21 in NW Pakistan

By Ali Afzaal

PARACHINAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest outside a mosque in a Shi'ite neighborhood Friday in the restive northwestern Kurram tribal region near the Afghanistan border, killing at least 21 people, local government and security officials said.

The bomber struck outside the mosque in a busy market in Parachinar, the main town in Kurram, after Friday prayers, in the latest attack by Sunni militants against minority Shi'ites.

"The bomber hurt many people. We have 21 bodies, and 10 of the wounded are in critical condition," Liaqat Bangash, a local emergency official told Reuters.

Fazal Saeed, leader of a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We have targeted the Shi'ite community of Parachinar because they were involved in activities against us," he told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location.

"We also warn the political administration of Parachinar to stop siding with the Shi'ite community in all our disputes."

Shi'ite Muslims are a minority sect of Islam, arising from a dispute over the successor to the Prophet Mohammad 1,400 years ago. Many extreme Sunni Muslims consider them apostates.

Kurram, the only part of Pakistan's border region that has a significant Shi'ite population, has been racked by sectarian violence between Sunni and Shi'ite tribes. The Taliban and al Qaeda's virulent anti-Shi'ite ideology has meant years of bloody fighting.

Saeed, who follows this anti-Shi'ite school of thought, was part of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) but broke away last year after disputes with the umbrella militant group's leadership.

He is said to have close ties with the Haqqani militant group, one of the most feared factions of the Afghan Taliban.

The TTP, al Qaeda, and the Afghan Taliban movement fighting Western forces in Afghanistan are entrenched in Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas. All have been involved in anti-Shi'ite activities for years.

They continue to have strongholds in the region despite a series of military operations in the last few years.

Pakistan's army and air force have been conducting operations against militant groups in Kurram since the beginning of the year. Dozens have been killed in fierce fighting this month.

Last week, Pakistani military officials said 11 militants were killed and another 19 wounded when Pakistani artillery hit their hideouts in the Mamozai area of Kurram.

The death toll could not be independently verified and militants often dispute official accounts.

Exploratory peace talks between Pakistan and al Qaeda-linked Taliban have made little progress so far, and previous peace deals have failed to improve security.

(Additional reporting by Saud Mehsud in DERA ISMAIL KHAN and Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; Writing by Qasim Nauman)