PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN // Pakistan authorities faced a furious backlash yesterday over security and medical failures after a suicide bomber killed 99 people at a volleyball match in one of the country's worst attacks. Police rounded up dozens of suspects and authorities opened an investigation into poor medical care as doctors in the remote north-west struggled to treat the casualties, many of them lying on the hospital floor.
The suicide bomber rammed a car bomb into a crowd of men, women and children watching the tournament in Shah Hasan Khan village, a pro-government area in the district of Lakki Marwat, reducing a sporting event to carnage on Friday. Police said the death toll had risen to 99, with 87 wounded being treated in three different hospitals, making it the third deadliest attack in a nearly three-year extremist campaign in the country.
"There was only one doctor on duty while there are 10 doctors working in that hospital," said Syed Zahir Ali Shah, the North West Frontier Province's health minister, conceding that limited health care had "caused more human losses". "After the blast, several hours passed, but the other doctors didn't come," he said. "I don't know why they were missing. We have opened an inquiry and a committee has been constituted."
There were scenes of chaos yesterday at the hospital in the town of Lakki Marwat. "Even now the injured are undergoing treatment on the hospital floor. Some have brought their own beds," Doctor Usman Ali said by telephone. "My daughter died because of the poor facilities in the hospital. There was no bed, no medicine and not even the X-ray machine was not working," Riaz Khatok, a shopkeeper, said from the hospital. "There was nowhere else in Lakki Marwat to take the wounded. Most of the dead died because of bleeding."
The local peace committee that organised the tournament and heads a local anti-Taliban militia, blamed the government for failing to prevent the attack. "The security personnel at the check post didn't search the vehicle and the militants managed to hit us," said Sher Ali Khan, one committee member. " They can target us again. The government should provide security for us." Suspicion has fallen on Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and its allies in North Waziristan, where US drone attacks have increasingly targeted al Qa'eda fighters and the Haqqani network, which is known for attacks in Afghanistan.
For two months, Pakistani troops have pressed an offensive trying to wipe out TTP hideouts in South Waziristan, sparking multiple revenge attacks. Suicide and bomb attacks blamed on the Taliban and militants linked to al Qa'eda have killed more than 2,880 people in Pakistan since July 2007, increasingly targeting civilians as well as government security installations. Under huge US pressure to clamp down on militants destabilising the border with Afghanistan, Pakistan has launched a wave of offensives in its tribal belt.
Emir Haider Khan Hoti, the chief minister of the North West Frontier Province, said recent military operations had put militants on the defensive and they were lashing out. "They are running and they are targeting citizens," Mr Hoti told reporters after visiting victims of the bombing being treated at a hospital in the provincial capital of Peshawar. "Militants and militancy is a cancer, and our struggle against it will continue until it vanishes completely," he said.
* Agence France-Presse, with additional reporting by the Associated Press