x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pakistan launched air raids after suicide attack

Military helicopters strike militant camps in the north-west after a female suicide bomber killed 43 people and wounded 70 at a food distribution centre in a second day of violence.

ISLAMABAD // Pakistan's military launched a series of helicopter raids against militant camps in north-western Pakistan yesterday as two days of violence in the region, including a suicide bombing on a food distribution line, left more than 110 people dead.

Forty militants were killed in the tribal region of Mohmand in a series of military raids.

Earlier in the morning, at about 8.30am local time, a female suicide bomber dressed in a burqa detonated explosives at a security check post near a food distribution centre in Khar, the headquarters of the Bajaur tribal region, leaving 43 people dead and 70 injured, officials said.

The violence came a day after 150 militants launched coordinated attacks at five check posts of security forces in Mohmand. Eleven paramilitary soldiers died in the attacks and dozens of militants were reportedly killed in retaliatory strikes by the Pakistani military.

The suicide attack in Khar was one the few of its kind committed by a woman.

"Police asked for her identity, but she ran towards the centre and lobbed hand grenades at the police," Tariq Khan, a government official, told the Associated Press. "She exploded herself when she reached the crowd" of about 300.

The people gathered at the distribution centre in Khar belonged to Salarzai tribe, which has resisted the encroachment of the Taliban by taking up arms and raising a private militia.

A spokesman for Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the bombing.

"We carried out the suicide attack in Khar because these people had made a lashkar [tribal vigilante force] against us," Azam Tariq told Agence France-Presse.

Witnesses said that the bomber lobbed a hand grenade before a huge blast. "I was waiting to be searched in a queue at the checkpoint outside the ration point and heard a grenade explosion. People started running in panic," Mushtaq Khan told AFP from a hospital, where he was being treated for injuries to an arm.

In the aftermath of the attacks, the World Food Programme suspended aid distribution in the Bajaur tribal region.

Between 300 and 500 families receive food supplies on a daily basis at food centres established recently by the WFP after the government allowed internally displaced people from Bajaur to return to their native areas.

"WFP operations in the rest of the country are not suspended," Amjad Jamal, a spokesman for the organisation, said yesterday, adding that the "World Food Programme was not the target [of the attack].

"It has now been established that a security check post was targeted and not the distribution centre of the World Food Programne," he said.

"The distribution centre is located at a distance of 500 to 600 metres from the security forces check post. It is located inside the civil colony and the security check post served as a screening point for the people queuing for food. This explains why staff members of the WFP stayed safe but unfortunately people who had gathered to receive food supplies became targets."

Bajaur, a vital corridor to Afghanistan through Pakistan's tribal belt, is a strategically important location beside Kunar Province in Afghanistan, where Nato forces are fighting the Taliban.

"Mohmand, Bajaur, specifically the areas bordering Afghanistan have become the latest hub for militants. They've gathered there, and are looking to strike", said Cyril Almeida, a columnist for Dawn, the country's leading English daily. "Military operations in six of the seven tribal regions have caused these guys to scatter And then they find a place to regroup," Almeida said. "Once again, Pakistani military is faced with an old problem: hit the militants in one area, and they pop up in another."

The suicide bombing was unique as it seemed to be the first time such an attack was carried out by a woman in Pakistan, said Hasan Askari Rizvi, a Lahore-based security and political analyst. "It is no surprise. They can use a woman, a child or whatever," Mr Rizvi told the Associated Press.

"Human life is not important to them, only the objective they are pursuing" of undermining state power, he added.