A bomb-laden car exploded Saturday in northwest Pakistan as police tried to pull a body from it, authorities said, killing seven police and a bystander as international fears grow over security and political stability in the nuclear-armed country.
Al-Qaida, Taliban and linked militants have staged numerous attacks against security forces along Pakistan's northwest border with Afghanistan, but Saturday's appeared to be the first to use a body as a lure. It occurred in the Badaber area, where residents recently evicted militants with help from police, prompting threats of retaliation.
Separately, a roadside bomb struck a military convoy in the northwest town of Darra Adam Khel, killing three passers-by and wounding four troops, government official Asif Khan said. The explosions came days after gunmen attacked Sri Lanka's cricket team in eastern Pakistan and ahead of expected anti-government rallies later this month involving the main opposition party. The turmoil is of great concern to US and other Western officials, who need Pakistan to focus on fighting militancy. Many militants are believed to use pockets of Pakistan's northwest as bases to plan attacks on American and NATO forces in Afghanistan. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Friday urged Pakistani politicians to stop feuding and focus on the threat from Islamist militants, the most direct appeal yet from the West regarding the country's political turmoil.
Miliband said it was "vital" that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and opposition leader Nawaz Sharif "unite against the mortal threat that Pakistan faces, which is a threat from its internal enemies."
On Saturday, officers were dispatched to Badaber, which lies on the outskirts of the main northwest city of Peshawar,
after an unknown caller told them a body was in a parked car, according to Police Chief Rahim Shah.
"Police went there. They found the white car. They also saw a body inside, but when they were pulling it out, the car bomb went off," he said, calling the set-up a "new technique." Footage from the scene showed a police van whose front was decimated.
The attack occurred just outside the Khyber tribal region, a part of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal belt where military forces have staged offensives to stem militant activity. Pakistan recently claimed victory in an offensive against militants in Bajur, another tribal region. Officials also say they are close to flushing out militants in nearby Mohmand tribal area.
But while the U.S. has praised those offensives, Pakistan has raised alarm bells in the West by engaging in peace talks with Taliban militants not far away in the northwest's Swat Valley. The rest of the country has not been immune from violence, as demonstrated by Tuesday's attack on the cricket team visiting the eastern city of Lahore. Heavily armed gunmen killed six police and a driver and wounded several players before fleeing unscathed. The assault bore some resemblance to November terrorist rampage in the Indian financial capital of Mumbai. The Pakistani militant group
Lashkar-e-Taiba has been blamed for that attack, in which 164 people were killed.
The group's chief spokesman, Abdullah Ghaznavi, denied it was involved in the attack on the Sri Lankans while also insisting it had never killed civilians in India. He blamed Indian spies for Tuesday's attack on the players, but offered no evidence to back that up.
"We consider it an attack on Pakistan," he told The Associated Press.
An investigator said Friday that Pakistani police suspect local militants were likely responsible for the attack on the Sri Lankans. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the issue. However, Salahuddin Niazi, the officer in charge of the probe, refused to confirm or deny that.
The attack on the cricket players occurred in Punjab province, stronghold of opposition leader Sharif. His brother led the provincial government, but recent court decisions against the two led the federal ruling party to dismiss the provincial government. The decision barred Sharif from running for office because of prior criminal convictions.
Sharif intends to participate in a massive march on the capital in the coming week. The main purpose of the so-called "Long March" is to push the government to restore the deposed chief justice of the Supreme Court.