Pakistan volleyball blast toll nears 100

Investigators sifted through rubble Saturday after a suicide car bomber detonated his explosive-filled vehicle in a crowd watching a volleyball game in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 93 people.

Friday's bombing marked a bloody start to 2010 for Pakistan, which has seen a surge in attacks blamed on the Taliban in recent months as Islamist fighters avenge military operations aimed at crushing their north-western strongholds.

The huge blast in the village of Shah Hasan Khan, in Bannu district, bordering the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, was Pakistan's deadliest in more than two months.

It caused the collapse of more than 20 houses, some with families inside.

"The entire nation is against terrorists," Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said. "Their agenda is foreign. Their agenda is to destabilise the government, deteriorate law and order and create fear and panic."

"We have the ability and resolve to eliminate terrorists," he said, adding that help would come from the international community.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed her country would continue supporting Pakistani people "in their efforts to chart their own future free from fear and intimidation."

Catherine Ashton, the European Union's new foreign policy chief, said she was "shocked" by news of the attack.

"In this difficult moment, the EU reaffirms its support for the government and the population of Pakistan," Ashton said.

In the village, resident Riaz Ahmad said pieces of human flesh and dried blood could still be seen on the ground and people were sifting through rubble searching for dead and injured.

The bomber drove a pick-up vehicle packed with 300 kilograms of explosives onto the site of the volleyball match and detonated.

"Five more people died overnight in the government's main hospital in Lakki Marwat town, raising the death toll to 93," district police chief Mohammad Ayub Khan said, blaming militants who were targeted in a military operation in Bannu last year.

Six children and five paramilitary soldiers were among the dead.

The volleyball tournament was organised by a peace committee which had supported a government operation to expel militants from the area.

It was the highest death toll from a suspected militant strike since a massive car bomb on October 28 killed 125 people in a crowded market in Peshawar, the northwestern provincial capital.

Ramzan Bittani, a 33-year-old driver, said that he had left the match to take a call.

"As I was listening, I saw a huge blue-and-white flash followed by an ear-piercing blast. When I was able to figure out what had happened, I saw bodies and smoke all around. My hand was fractured," he said.

Anwer Khan, 18, a student, said that he had just stepped out of his house when he saw the black pick-up speeding up towards the spectators.

"A giant flame leapt towards the sky. There was bright light everywhere, just like a flash, and then a very huge blast shook everything. Two pellets hit my forehead and blood started flowing," Khan said.

Many of the injured complained about facilities at the Lakki Marwat hospital.

"There are no medicines and bedding available... the government should take note of the situation," Taj Alam, a labourer with a shoulder injury, said.

He said that locals had brought beds from their houses for the injured.

Security has plummeted over the past two-and-a-half years in Pakistan, where militant violence has killed more than 2,800 people since July 2007.

Elsewhere, a local Taliban commander and his four companions were killed in an exchange of fire with troops in Kolachi village, 25 kilometres west of the north-western town of Dera Ismail Khan on Friday.

 

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