A suicide car bomb attack hit a Pakistani police checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar before dawn today, killing four police and wounding 11 people, including a woman and a cleric. Northwest Pakistan is on the front line of the country's battle against Taliban and al Qa'eda-linked militants holed up in the tribal belt on the Afghan border which is subject to Pakistani military operations and US drone attacks.
More than 50 bomb attacks have struck the nuclear-armed country so far this year, killing around 500 people and a string of deadly attacks this month have been largely concentrated in the north-west. Today's attacker struck the checkpoint in Pir Bala village, on the main road from Peshawar, Pakistan's northwestern capital, to Mohmand, one of seven districts in the al Qa'eda and Taliban-infested tribal belt.
The force of the explosion destroyed the simple, one-storey mud-brick building at the police post, damaged a nearby house and a mosque, police said. "A suicide bomber ploughed his explosives-laden car in Pir Bala police post," Peshawar city police chief Liaquat Ali told reporters. "Four policemen were killed and 11 other people wounded. Two policemen are in a critical condition," he said. Those who were killed had been on duty at the checkpoint at the time of the attack, between 4.30 and 5am, said police official Mussarat Khan.
"The small building at the police checkpoint was destroyed. A nearby house and a mosque were also damaged," he said. Peshawar, with its bustling markets and as a regional headquarters for government and security forces, has been on the front line of deadly attacks. The teeming city runs into the tribal belt, which Washington calls the most dangerous place on earth and a global headquarters of al Qa'eda.
Mr Ali told reporters that the bomber intended to strike elsewhere in the city of 2.5 million and only detonated his vehicle when he was stopped. Pir Bala straddles Warsak Road, which links Peshawar to the mountains of the tribal badlands. This area became a stronghold for hundreds of extremists who fled Afghanistan after the US-led invasion in late 2001. Mohammad Gul, a police official on duty at Peshawar's Lady Reading Hospital, confirmed the death toll and said a cleric and a woman were among the wounded.
Siraj Ahmad, a local administration official in Peshawar, said five civilians were among the 11 people wounded. A campaign of suicide and bomb attacks has killed nearly 3,300 people in less than three years across the nuclear-armed country of 167 million. The attacks are blamed on al Qa'eda, Taliban and other extremist Islamist groups. On April 17, two suicide bombers dressed in burqas killed 42 people when they attacked a crowd of displaced people collecting aid handouts in the Kacha Pukha camp in north-west Pakistan.
In perhaps the most audacious recent assault, at least three security officials were killed when militants armed with guns, grenades and two car bombs targeted the heavily guarded US consulate in Peshawar on April 5. Under US pressure, Pakistan as of last year significantly increased air and ground offensives against home-grown militants in the tribal belt. But the rugged region is also routinely hit by US drone attacks targeting al Qa'eda-linked and Taliban commanders.
More than 880 people have been killed in nearly 100 drone strikes in Pakistan since August 2008. The bombing raids fuel anti-American sentiment in Muslim Pakistan and draw public condemnation from the government. * AFP