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Pakistan school bombing kills eight, including four foreigners

At least four foreign journalists were killed and several people injured today when a security forces' convoy was targeted with a bomb in northwest Pakistan's restive Dir district.

world Updated: Feb 03, 2010 13:58 IST
Lehaz Ali

A bomb blast in northwest Pakistan killed eight people Wednesday, including four foreign aid workers and children at a school which had just been rebuilt after a previous Islamist attack.

Journalists were also wounded when the bomb exploded as Pakistani paramilitary forces escorted a group of foreign and local visitors to the inauguration ceremony for the newly built school in the volatile region.

"Eight people were killed in this blast -- four foreigners, one security guard and three schoolgirls," district police chief Mumtaz Zarin told AFP. "The school building was also badly damaged and three vehicles destroyed."

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the blast and ordered an investigation into the attack in Koto village, about 10 kilometres (six miles) from the Lower Dir's main town of Taimargara.

"The four foreigners were working for an NGO (non-governmental organisation). They are from the international community," said a spokesman for the paramilitary Frontier Corps.

Doctor Sardar Ali told AFP from Taimargara Hospital that medics had received the bodies of three schoolgirls and a man. Police said they were investigating the nationalities of the foreigners and that four local journalists were also injured.

Police said the attack happened ahead of the inauguration of the school, which had been blown up in January 2009 and was reconstructed with the help of a foreign aid organisation.

Western groups have been working with the Pakistani government to promote girls' education in parts of northwest Pakistan, where Islamist militants opposed to co-education have destroyed hundreds of schools.

Pakistan carried out a major offensive to crush a Taliban insurgency last year in Lower Dir and the neighbouring districts of Swat and Buner.

Lower Dir borders Bajaur, a district in Pakistan's lawless tribal belt where a suicide bombing killed 17 people at a military checkpoint on Saturday and where Pakistan is waging a new air and ground assault on militants.

US officials call Pakistan's tribal belt the most dangerous place on earth and, following the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the headquarters of Al-Qaeda, which has links to Taliban and other extreme Islamist networks.

On Tuesday night, up to 10 unmanned US drone aircraft launched about 18 missiles on hideouts and training camps in five isolated settlements of the Dattakhel in tribal North Waziristan, killing at least 20 people.

North Waziristan borders Afghanistan and is infested with Taliban insurgents, Al-Qaeda operatives and fighters with the Haqqani militant network.

"Our reports say that more than 20 people, mostly militants, were killed," a senior security official in the regional capital Peshawar told AFP.

"Eight to 10 US drones were involved in these strikes... there were no such big strikes in the past, this was the heaviest."

He said the village of Daigan bore the brunt of the bombing raid, where militants had dug trenches and mounted anti-aircraft guns on vehicles to try and bring down the US drones which fly almost daily over the area.

Fazal-ur-Rehman, a resident of Daigan, said that villagers had found 23 bodies. Other witnesses put the death toll even higher.

"Some of the bodies are badly mutilated and beyond recognition, the death toll is up to 30," said resident Syed Mohammad. Drone attacks have soared since US President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the heart of his administration's fight against Al-Qaeda.

US missile strikes have killed more than 750 people in Pakistan since August 2008, fanning anti-American sentiment in the conservative Muslim country. The government, a key US ally, has publicly condemned the attacks.

US officials, however, say the drone programme has killed a number of high-value extremists and is a key weapon in the war on Al-Qaeda and a resurgent Taliban, across the border in Afghanistan.

Pakistani Taliban leader Hakimullah Mehsud has been a target of the drone attacks. A growing number of reports say that he died of injuries sustained in a January strike on North Waziristan, but the Taliban deny that he is dead.