At least 40 people were killed and 35 injured on Sunday in a daring suicide attack at a gathering of tribal elders and local officials in the restive northwest Pakistan where the military is battling pro-Taliban militants. <b1>
The suicide bomber, who was aged about 18, entered the venue of the traditional council known as a "jirga" at Darra Adam Khel, where about 500 elders from five tribes and local officials had gathered, and blew himself up just as the people were dispersing after the meeting.
The jirga had been called to discuss the security situation and steps to restore peace in Darra Adam Khel, which has witnessed a spurt in the activities of pro-Taliban militants in the past few months.
Most of the dead were tribal elders. Two politicians who contested the February 18 general election were also killed, witnesses said, adding at least 40 bodies had been counted.
Pakistan Army soldiers cordoned off the site and began patrolling the area, including the nearby strategic Indus Highway which was blocked by angry tribesmen. The severed head of the bomber was found by the security forces.
Local khasadar militia and levy force too reached the spot and helped ferry the injured to hospitals in Darra Adam Khel and nearby Kohat. The seriously injured were taken to North West Frontier Province capital of Peshawar.
No group claimed responsibility for the bombing that has sparked tension in the region.
The NWFP has witnessed some of the most deadly suicide attacks in Pakistan in the past few months. This is the fourth in the last three days.
Such attacks are usually blamed by the government on pro-Taliban militants operating in the NWFP and nearby tribal areas bordering Afghanistan.
The elders of tribes in the Darra Adam Khel area had recently said they would not allow any militants or foreign fighters to operate in their area. They also warned that the house of any person found sheltering militants or foreigners would be burnt in keeping with tribal traditions.
In January, Pakistani forces mounted a major offensive to clear militants in the area, killing at least 50 of them.
On Friday, nearly 50 people were killed at Mingora town in the province when a suicide bomber blew himself up amidst hundreds of mourners attending the funeral of a police officer slain by militants.
The federal interior ministry has stepped up security across the country in the wake of today's suicide attack.
Security was also stepped up for top political personalities, including PPP co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari, PML-Q leader and former minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman.