At least 30 people were killed on Saturday in a bomb blast in Bajaur, a tribal area in Pakistan, in what is being seen as retaliation for a military offensive against militants in a neighbouring tribal region of the country.
The blast took place when a burqa-clad bomber attacked a line of people waiting for food hand-outs at a World Food Programme centre. The death toll is expected to be higher as many of those evacuated to hospitals are in critical condition. The gender of the bomber has not been ascertained,
Officials and witnesses said the death toll could be much higher.
Bajaur was once a stronghold of Taliban militants who have carried out several bombings and suicide attacks.
Analysts say that the attack was aimed at scaring away international donor agencies from the region so that the people would turn to the militants for help. The WFP has halted distribution of food and services in Bajaur agency due to the attack.
The target was a food distribution point in Khar, the main town of Bajaur. “The attack took place when hundreds of people were gathered to receive food rations for people displaced by fighting,” Wisal Ahmed, a government official in the tribal region, told the media.
Pakistan’s military first launched operations in Bajaur in August 2008 and have repeatedly claimed to have eliminated the militant threat. Bajaur is one of seven Pakistani tribal districts.
Eye witnesses said that a burqa-clad suicide bomber attacked a crowd of people waiting for aid. The attack in the Bajaur region came a day after a clash between the Taliban and security forces in the neighbouring Mohmand region that left 11 soldiers and 40 militants dead.
A WFP spokesman said the attack took place where people were being screened at a security checkpoint near their centre. Witnesses said the attacker first threw hand grenades at tribesmen before detonating the bomb.
WFP spokesperson Amjad Jamal said work in Bajaur was being suspended due to security reasons, but will continue across the country. He said that food distribution to internally displaced persons (IDPs) will resume after the security situation improves.