Pakistan Suicide Bombing Kills 22, Injures Minister
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, April 28 — A suicide bomber apparently trying to assassinate Pakistan’s interior minister detonated his explosives in a crowd surrounding the official Saturday, killing at least 22 people and wounding 35.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao was slightly injured, and state television showed him walking to his car after the blast with bloodstains on his face and white tunic. His son, two security guards and two members of his staff were among the injured.
There was no immediate assertion of responsibility for the bombing, but suspicion will fall on Islamic militants who have repeatedly targeted top Pakistani officials, including President Pervez Musharraf, for support of the U.S.led fight against terrorism.
The suicide bomber struck soon after Sherpao had finished addressing a political gathering attended by hundreds of people in an open field in the northwestern town of Charsadda.
Faiz Mohammed, a journalist who was covering the event, said the attacker got within 15 yards of Sherpao, detonating the bomb in a crowd that had gathered around the minister as he was about to get into his car. The bombing left a carnage of body parts and triggered a stampede, he said.
Women wailed over the body of a child.
Investigators found the bomber’s head, according to an intelligence official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of his job.
Sherpao, who was taken to a hospital but quickly discharged, expressed sorrow over the loss of life but said he would continue to fight terrorism. “Such attacks cannot deter my resolve,” he said.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the attack underscored the urgency of the struggle against terrorism.
“It shows terrorists are out there and active. . . . It’s a determined enemy out there that wants to cause destruction, and our determination needs to exceed theirs,” Fratto said.
An intelligence official said security guards blocked the attacker as he tried to get close to Sherpao, though witnesses did not verify that account.
The bombing came a day after an apparent missile strike killed four people in the border region of North Waziristan, considered a stronghold of Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. The U.S. military and NATO in neighboring Afghanistan denied any involvement.
It was not clear whether Pakistani security forces played any role. The government said — despite witness accounts to the contrary — that the dead and wounded were making bombs and had accidentally caused an explosion.
Saturday’s blast was the most recent in a series of bombings that have targeted top officials since Pakistan became a U.S. ally against al-Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
In December 2003, Musharraf narrowly escaped injury in two massive bombings 11 days apart in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Seventeen people were killed in the second bombing.
In July 2004, a suicide bombing targeted Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as he campaigned west of Islamabad, a few weeks before he took office. Aziz was unhurt in the attack, for which al-Qaeda asserted responsibility, but nine others, including his driver, were killed.
Volunteers take a blast victim to a hospital in Peshawar. The bombing in Charsadda occurred in a crowd surrounding the interior minister.