A pair of suicide bombings killed 62 people today outside a government office in a region along the Afghan border.
The assault, which wounded at least 111 people, was one of the deadliest in Pakistan this year.
There was speculation that the bombers were targeting anti-Taliban tribal elders visiting the government office in the village of Yakaghund, part of the Mohmand tribal area in the country’s north west.
The attackers struck within seconds of each other as two US senators met Pakistani leaders in the capital, Islamabad, to discuss their countries’ cooperation in the fight against terrorism, much of it being waged in the lawless tribal belt bordering Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban have long had strongholds.
One of the bombs appeared fairly small but the other was very large, officials said. At least one bomber was on a motorcycle.
The bombers detonated their explosives near the office of Rasool Khan, a deputy Mohmand administrator who escaped unharmed. The tribal elders, including those involved in setting up militias to fight the Taliban, were in the building but none was hurt, according to Mohmand chief administrator Amjad Ali Khan.
Video footage showed dozens of men searching through piles of yellow brick and mud rubble for survivors. Women and children were among the victims.
Some 70 to 80 shops were damaged or destroyed, while damage to a prison building allowed 28 prisoners – ordinary criminals, not militants – to flee, said Rasool Khan, who gave the casualty figures.
Near the attack site, officials had been distributing wheelchairs to disabled people and equipment to poor farmers, Amjad Ali Khan said. It was unclear how many participants in that event were among the victims.
Mohmand is one of several areas in Pakistan’s lawless tribal belt where Taliban and al Qaida members are believed to be hiding. The Pakistani army has carried out operations in Mohmand, but it has been unable to remove the militants.
Nevertheless, there have been fewer attacks in Pakistan this year than in previous years – most notably in the north west. In the last three months of 2009, more than 500 people were killed in a surge of attacks in the country.
Although information from the tribal belt is difficult to verify independently, the Pakistani army’s operations and US missile strikes are believed to have calmed the situation since then.