KHAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed 10 people and wounded 30 when he blew himself up at a meeting of ethnic Pashtun tribal leaders in northwest Pakistan’s Bajaur area on the Afghan border Thursday, government officials said.
Pakistani security forces are fighting Islamist al Qaeda and Taliban militants in Bajaur and authorities are encouraging tribesmen to raise militias to force militants from the region.
The bombing took place as about 200 men of the pro-government Salarzai tribe gathered in Batmalai village, 20 km (12 miles) north of Khar, for a jirga, or tribal council, to draw up a plan to drive militants out of their area, the officials said.
“The bomber walked up to the jirga and set off explosives strapped to his body. Ten people were killed,” a senior government official in Khar, the main town in the region, told Reuters by telephone.
Another government official, Jameel Khan, said 30 people were wounded in the blast.
Tribal elder Kamal Khan said: “We don’t know how and when he got there. We just heard a blast and then people started running here and there.”
“WON’T DETER US”
It was the second attack on a tribal council meeting in less than a month and the latest attack in an intensifying campaign by militants that has raised fears for Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally which is also struggling with an economic crisis.
A suicide car bomber attacked a meeting in the Orakzai region, south of Bajaur, on October 10 killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 100.
Tribal elder Kamal Khan said their drive against the militants would go on.
“This bombing won’t deter us but will make us more committed to drive out the miscreants,” he said.
The military says more than 1,500 militants have been killed in fighting in Bajaur since August. There is no independent verification of the military’s casualty estimate.
Separately, authorities released a Taliban militant commander and three of his comrades in exchange for the release of 10 soldiers abducted by militants near the northwestern town of Hangu, a government official said.
In another incident, militants fired five rockets at the airport in the main northwestern city of Peshawar Wednesday night but there were no casualties, police said.
Three of the rockets fell on empty land near the airport. The other two landed inside the airport perimeter but caused no damage, they said.