Police said the attack was possibly retaliation against residents who had set up a militia to expel Taliban fighters from the area Photo: BBC
Here comes Taliban’s new year gift to the nation. Friends of Taliban (Ansar Abbasi, Shahid Masood, Imran Khan, Munawar Hassan etc) will most probably attribute this attack to Blackwater, CIA, RAW, anything but the Taliban. One wonders why do Blackwater et al choose to attack anti-Taliban persons or groups, why don’t they attack their ‘real enemies’, e.g., Jamaat-e-Islami, Tehrik-e-Insaf or Hameed Gul and co?
By Zahid Hussain in Islamabad
At least 88 people were killed yesterday when a suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives on to a village green during a volleyball match in northwestern Pakistan.
Hundreds of people were watching the match in the remote village of Shah Hason Khel when the bomber struck. The attack is thought to be in retaliation for the village’s stand against the Taliban.
Militants in Pakistan have increased their attacks in recent months to avenge military operations that have taken place in their strongholds on the border with Afghanistan.
The bodies of the players were thrown hundreds of feet by the powerful blast, that also destroyed 20 houses. “It’s just a disaster. I can see flesh, bodies and wounded all around,” Fazl-e-Akbar, a witness, said. “It’s dark. Vehicles’ headlights are being used to search for victims.”
Anwer Khan, 18, a student, had just left his house when he saw a black pick-up truck speeding towards the spectators. “A giant flame leapt towards the sky. There was bright light everywhere, just like a flash, and then a very huge blast shook everything. Two pellets hit my forehead and blood started flowing,” Mr Khan said.
Ramzan Bittani, 33, a driver, said that he had left the match to answer a phone call when he saw a huge blue flame and heard a loud blast. “I saw bodies and smoke all around. My hand was fractured,” he said.
Several people were killed in a nearby mosque where a group of tribal elders were holding a meeting. Many wounded women and children were pulled from the rubble of nearby houses.
Local officials said that the village was struggling to cope with the scale of the attack. More than 100 people were wounded, many of them critically. Khalid Israr, a senior regional official, said that a rescue operation had started for villagers trapped under rubble. “It is a small village with very few rescue facilities. Rescue equipment is being sent there from other places. The military has sent personnel to help with the operation,” he said.
Many spectators had come from surrounding villages. Most of the victims were children as young as 12.
The village is close to the South Waziristan tribal region, where government forces have been battling insurgents. The villagers had recently formed a militia to drive the Taleiban from the area. “We have been receiving threats from the militants,” Mushtaq Marwat, a member of the pro-government militia, said.
Ayub Khan, the local police chief, said that two vehicles were involved in the attack. “One was blown up here while the second fled to an unknown location. We believe it may have been used to attack some other place,” he said. “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.”
Mr Khan said that the bomber drove a vehicle loaded with 550lb (250 kg) of high-intensity explosives on to the field. “We fear that some ten or so people might have been trapped in the rubble,” he added.
The insurgents have attacked military installations and even markets regularly, but they rarely target sporting events. It could mark a new phase in the their strategy of bombing crowded areas to inflict mass killings and spread fear and chaos.
The military is locked in its biggest assault yet on Taliban strongholds in South Waziristan, involving more than 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets. The operation has scattered insurgents but sparked apparent reprisal attacks across the country. More than 45 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack on a Shia Muslim religious gathering in Karachi, southern Pakistan, this week.