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15 July 2024

Pakistan hunts clues in suicide bombing

By Agencies


Pakistan security agencies on Saturday were hunting for clues in the suicide bombing at a mosque that killed 54 people but missed the target, a close ally of President Pervez Musharraf.

Aftab Sherpao, Musharraf's former interior minister who oversaw a crackdown on Islamic militants, escaped unhurt but his son was wounded in Friday's blast at the mosque in his residential compound in northwest Pakistan.

The attack was condemned by the United Nations and the United States, which counts Musharraf as a pivotal ally in its "war on terror" campaign against Islamic militancy.

The carnage has raised fears of more bloodshed in the run-up to the January 8 parliamentary elections -- which are already under intense international scrutiny after allegations Musharraf's allies will try to rig the ballot.

Police said Saturday they had found two severed legs believed to be those of the suicide bomber and that they were conducting DNA tests.

"A team of experts is conducting a high-level investigation into the incident," police officer Gulzar Ahmed told AFP.

Militant groups, targeted in a campaign led by Sherpao until Musharraf appointed a new caretaker government last month before the vote, have vowed to disrupt the elections.

But Musharraf pledged he would not yield to what he called the "distorted thinking" of the militants, who attacked Friday while Muslims were marking one of the most important holidays of the Islamic calendar, Eid al-Adha.

"No Muslim could even think of committing such a heinous crime that takes the lives of a large number of innocent faithful," he said of the attack, which took place in the town of Charshadda.

The United States said the attack was "even more disturbing during such a special holiday" and sent its condolences to the families of the victims.

"Violence for political gain is never justified," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said. "Terrorists continue to use violent tactics to foster fear and limit freedom."

It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since October, when twin suicide bombings killed 139 people at a parade in the southern city of Karachi in honour of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto.

It was not immediately known how the blast missed Sherpao, who as interior minister had command of the country's paramilitary forces and was in effect the public face of the government's fight against Islamic militants.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attack and urged all political forces in Pakistan "to unite against the scourge of terrorism and to act together to create a peaceful environment" ahead of next month's elections.

The latest suicide attack was the fourth to hit Pakistan since just last Friday, a day before Musharraf lifted a controversial state of emergency.

Musharraf cited the threat of Islamist violence when he imposed emergency rule on November 3. But in a speech to the nation after he lifted the emergency last Saturday, he said the threat had been contained.

"The wave of terrorism and militancy has been stopped under the emergency and there has been considerable improvement in the overall situation," Musharraf said. (AFP)