x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Volleyball game blast kills scores in Pakistan

Bomber drove lorry loaded with explosives on to sports field and detonated an explosion in a crowd of 200 that included children.

A suicide attack in a Pakistani town bordering the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan killed scores of people who had gathered to watch a volleyball game yesterday. Local police said the bomber drove a vehicle loaded with explosives on to the sports field and detonated an explosion in a crowd of 200 that included children. Reports said between 40 and 70 people had been killed with dozens more injured, and warned that the death toll would climb, as many of the victims have been buried under the rubble of collapsed homes nearby.

The Pakistani television station Express 24/7 claimed more than 70 people had been killed, 65 wounded and 20 homes destroyed. "The villagers were watching the match between the two village teams when the bomber rashly drove his double-cabin pickup vehicle into them and blew it up," Mohammed Ayub Khan, the district police chief, told Agence France-Presse. The attack happened in the Lakki Marwat district in North West Frontier Province just months after the former Taliban stronghold was flushed of fighters. Officials said the village was known to be opposed to the Taliban, and had set up its own local militia to force fighters from the area.

Since then, officials said the Taliban had been issuing threats against the villagers. Mushtaq Marwat, a member of an anti-Taliban group, described the explosion on Geo TV. "Suddenly there was a huge blast. We went out and saw bodies and injured people everywhere." The attack comes amid a growing spate of suicide bombings in the country that have killed hundreds over the past few months. The assault seems to be in retaliation for a major military offensive against the Taliban in the Waziristan tribal areas.

Pakistan's biggest city of Karachi was virtually shut down yesterday as people held a protest against the increase in violent attacks. Earlier this week, 43 people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked a Shiite religious procession. The Taliban claimed responsibility and threatened more violence. Attacks during sporting events such as the volleyball match are uncommon, however insurgents are increasingly targeting crowded areas such as markets in order to kill greater numbers of people and spread fear.

In addition to violence, the Taliban have demonstrated their authority in some areas by burning DVDs and flogging and executing their detractors. Also yesterday, five people, including an anti-Taliban tribal leader, were killed in a roadside bomb in the Bajaur tribal district. The North West Frontier Province has also been subject to increasing numbers of US-led drone attacks. Earlier in the day in a neighbouring district, a guided missile hit a car carrying suspected militants near the village of Naurak, killing four and injuring one.

US strikes in Pakistan have killed at least 662 people since August 2008, according to AFP. The number of strikes, which increase anti-American sentiment in the region, increased dramatically since President Barack Obama took office, the agency reported. More than 2,800 people have been killed by militants since July 2007. Most of those deaths have occurred in the beleaguered North West Frontier Province. One of the largest explosions killed 125 people in the provincial capital of Peshawar in October.

The Obama administration called the attack "the latest in a series of senseless incidents of violence" against Pakistani citizens. "We extend our condolences to those injured and to the next-of-kin of those killed - several of which appear to be young children," the National Security Council spokesman, Mike Hammer, said in a statement. jgerson@thenational.ae