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Pakistan Suicide Bomb Kills Scores

by Haroon Siddique and agencies

A female suicide bomber killed more than 40 people today at a food distribution centre near Pakistan's border with Afghanistan, Pakistani officials said.

The attack, believed to be the first suicide bombing by a woman in Pakistan, took place in Bajur, a tribal region where the military has twice declared victory over Taliban and al-Qaida insurgents.

It came a day after some 150 militants killed 11 soldiers in a co-ordinated assault in a neighbouring region where the army has also been tackling insurgents.

The woman wearing a burqa lobbed two hand grenades into the crowd waiting at a checkpoint outside the food aid distribution centre in the town of Khar before detonating her explosives vest, according to local police official Fazal-e-Rabbi Khan.

He said the victims were gathering to collect food tokens distributed by the World Food Programme and other agencies to people displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the region in early 2009.

Local government official Tariq Khan said the blast also wounded 60 people, some of them critically. He, and another local official, Sohail Khan, said an examination of the human remains had confirmed the bomber was a woman.

Male suicide bombers often don the burqa as a disguise. In 2007, officials initially claimed Pakistan's first female suicide bomber had killed 14 people in the north-west town of Bannu but the attacker was later identified as a man.

Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security and political analyst, said today's suicide bombing appeared to be the first carried out by a woman in Pakistan.

"It is no surprise. They can use a woman, a child or whatever," he said. "Human life is not important to them, only the objective they are pursuing."

Akbar Jan, 45, who sustained leg wounds in the bombing, said from his hospital bed that people were lining up for the ration coupons when there was a large explosion.

"We thought someone had fired a rocket," he told Associated Press. He said within seconds the ground was strewn with the wounded.

"I realised a little later that I myself have suffered wounds," he said. "Everybody was crying. It was blood and human flesh everywhere."

The prime minister, Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani, condemned those behind the bombing and said Pakistanis were "united against them".

Bajur is on the northern tip of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal belt, bordering Afghanistan. Along with other parts of the tribal regions it is of major concern to the US because it has been used as a safe havens for militants fighting Nato and US troops across the border in Afghanistan. The US has long pressured Pakistan to clear the tribal belt of the insurgents.

The military first declared victory in Bajur after a six-month operation launched in late 2008. But the army was forced to launch a follow-up operation in late January this year and declared victory again about a month later. Still, violence has persisted in the region.

The army also has taken steps to clear Mohmand, a tribal region next to Bajur that also has witnessed militant activity. But yesterday, around 150 insurgents attacked five security checkpoints in the Baizai area of Mohmand, killing at least 11 soldiers and wounding a dozen more in a show of their ongoing strength.

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