Police say suicide bomber attacks volleyball tournament in northwest Pakistan, 20 killed

Friday, January 1, 2010

Police: Suicide bomb kills 20 in Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Police say a suicide car bomber killed 20 people at volleyball tournament in a northwest Pakistani city near the insurgent-riddled tribal areas.

Police official Habib Khan says the Friday blast occurred in Lakki Marwat.

Local police chief Ayub Khan says the blast may have been retaliation for locals’ attempts to expel militants by setting up their own militia. He says some nearby houses have collapsed, and that other people may be trapped in the rubble.

Lakki Marwat lies close to North and South Waziristan, two tribal regions where militants have proliferated.

Since the army launched a ground offensive in South Waziristan in October, a slew of bombings have plagued Pakistan and killed more than 500 people.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber set off an explosives-laden vehicle on a field during a volleyball tournament Friday in northwest Pakistan, killing three people and wounding at least 20, police said.

The blast occurred near Pakistan’s tribal belt, and was the latest bloodshed to rattle the country since the army launched a military offensive against Taliban fighters in the South Waziristan tribal region. The operation has scattered insurgents but provoked apparent reprisal attacks that have killed more than 500 people since October.

Police said Friday’s bombing in Lakki Marwat city, not far from South Waziristan, was possible retaliation for local residents’ efforts to keep militants out of the area.

“The locality has been a hub of militants. Locals set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area. This attack seems to be reaction to their expulsion,” local police chief Ayub Khan told reporters.

He said the bomber drove onto the field, which lies in a congested neighborhood, during the volleyball contest. The blast killed three people and wounded at least 20. Some nearby houses collapsed, and “we fear that some 10 or so people might have been trapped in the rubble,” he said.

Also Friday, a suspected U.S. missile struck a car carrying alleged militants in North Waziristan tribal region, killing three men, two intelligence officials said. It was the second such strike in less than a day.

The strikes are part of the U.S. campaign to eliminate high-value militant targets that use Pakistan as a safe haven to plan attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and on the West.

The one Friday happened near Mir Ali, a major town in the region, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Shortly afterward, Taliban fighters arrived at the scene of the attack in the village of Ghundi and moved the bodies to an undisclosed location, the officials said.

U.S. officials rarely discuss the strikes, and Pakistan publicly condemns them, though it is widely believed to aid them secretly.

Karachi, the country’s largest city, came to a virtual standstill Friday after religious and political leaders called for a general strike to protest a bombing that killed 44 people and subsequent riots.

The city’s major markets, stores and business centers were closed, along with financial institutions that had already planned to shut because of New Year’s Day. Public transportation was halted and gas stations were shut down.

Monday’s bombing occurred in the midst of a procession of minority Shiite Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Muharram. Afterward, angry protesters went on a rampage, setting fires to about 2,000 stores that took three days to completely put out.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik, on a visit to Karachi, said investigators were still determining if the attack was a suicide bombing.

He also questioned the claim of a purported Taliban spokesman, Asmatullah Shaheen, that the militant group was behind the attack. Local news reports on Friday quoted a more prominent Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, as denying that the Pakistani Taliban’s central leadership had approved the attack, though he did not rule out the possibility that Shaheen’s group had carried it out without approval.

Elsewhere in the northwest, a roadside bomb exploded near a car in the Bajur tribal region, killing an anti-Taliban tribal elder and five of his family members, said Nasib Shah, a local government official.

Bajur was the focus of a 2008-09 army offensive but still suffers some militant violence. Tribal leaders who support the government against the Taliban are frequent targets of attacks.

Dawar reported from Mir Ali. Associated Press Writers Habib Khan in Khar, Asif Shahzad in Islamabad and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

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