Thursday, March 31, 2011

CHARSADDA, Pakistan — A suicide bomb blast targeting an Islamic party chief killed at least 13 people in Pakistan Thursday, officials said -- the second attack against him and his supporters in two days.

The bombing took place in the northwestern town of Charsadda, close to the convoy of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party.

"At least 13 people were martyred including four police officials and 42 others were wounded in the suicide bombing," senior administration official Ajmal Khan told AFP.

"The bomber was on foot and he jumped on the main road in front of the police vehicle and detonated his explosive when the convoy of Maulana Fazlur Rehman was coming," Khan said.

Rehman and his companions were unharmed, senior police official Nisar Khan Marwat told AFP, adding that the politician had gone to the town to address a party meeting.

Rehman's party spokesman Asif Iqbal Daudzai confirmed that the party chief and other leaders were not hurt, but two security guards travelling in the vehicle in front were wounded.

"Maulana Fazlur Rehman and others are safe, their vehicle was damaged in the bomb blast," Daudzai told AFP.

An AFP reporter at the site of the blast said the bombing left seven shops and three vehicles wrecked, with walls scarred by blood spots and pellet marks.

Fruit from nearby stalls littered the ground, scattered among quantities of broken glass.

"I was sitting in my shop when a I heard an ear-splitting blast. I saw a fireball on the road and then smoke filled the area. I was not hurt but I have difficulty in hearing now," fruit vendor Shaukat Khan told AFP.

It was the second attack on Rehman and his supporters in as many days.

On Wednesday a suicide bomber on a motorcycle blew himself up near a police checkpoint, killing 10 people and wounding more than 20 in the northwestern town of Swabi, some 60 kilometres (37 miles) east of Charsadda.

Rehman was on his way to a public meeting in Swabi when that blast happened.

It was not immediately clear why Rehman, a federal MP and chairman of Pakistan's parliamentary committee on Kashmir, was being targeted.

Senior provincial minister Bashir Bilour told reporters that he could not comment on who was behind the blast, but said that Taliban militants were trying to destabilise government by attacking politicians.

"Taliban want to destabilise the government and they do not want the politicians to meet the people," Bilour said.

Rehman's party walked out of the national ruling coalition on December 14 after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani sacked one of its three cabinet ministers over a war of words with religious affairs minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi, who was also fired.

The spat related to a corruption scandal over accommodation for tens of thousands of Pakistani pilgrims that reportedly implicated Kazmi's ministry.

Rehman has demanded Gilani's resignation, and has also led rallies that forced the government to abandon possible changes in the country's blasphemy law.

"Terrorists have no religion. If they can bomb mosques, they can attack religious and political leaders also," provincial information minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain told AFP.

"Every politician is under threat here," he said, referring to frequent militant attacks on government and security officials and places of worship in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhawa, which borders Afghanistan.

More than 4,000 people have died in suicide and bomb attacks throughout Pakistan since government forces launched an offensive against militants in a mosque in Islamabad in 2007.

Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants launch almost daily attacks across northwest Pakistan and the tribal belt that Washington has branded the most dangerous place on Earth.


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