Pakistan death toll rises to 22

Security guards prevented a suicide bomber from killing Pakistan's interior minister in an attack at a political gathering in a north-western town today that left at least 22 dead and 35 wounded, officials said.

Security guards prevented a suicide bomber from killing Pakistan's interior minister in an attack at a political gathering in a north-western town today that left at least 22 dead and 35 wounded, officials said.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao sustained minor injuries, police said. Footage broadcast on state television showed the minister walking to his car after the blast, with bloodstains on his face and white shalwar kameez tunic.

Asif Iqbal Daudzai, spokesman for the government of North West Frontier Province, said the attack in the town of Charsadda killed 22 people and wounded more than 35. The dead included two staff members and two security guards of Sherpao.

Security guards blocked the attacker as he tried to get close to the minister after he had finished his speech, an intelligence official said. The attacker detonated the bomb moments later.

Mohammed Khan, a police official, said the minister suffered minor injuries and was in stable condition. He was being shifted to a hospital in the nearby city of Peshawar.

Khan said at least 24 people were wounded, at least 10 critically.

Khan said the son of Sherpao, Sikandar Khan Sherpao, and some lawmakers and security officials were among the injured.

The intelligence official said investigators had found the head of the suicide bomber. He had no details on the attacker's identity.

Since Pakistan became an ally in the US-led war on terrorism five-and-a-half years ago, several top government figures have been targeted by Islamic militants.

In December 2003, President General Pervez Musharraf narrowly escaped injury in two massive bombings 11 days apart in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Some 17 other people were killed in the second bombing.

In July 2004, a suicide bombing claimed by al Qaida targeted Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz as he campaigned for a by-election west of the capital Islamabad, a few weeks before he took office. Aziz was unhurt, but nine others, including his driver, were killed.

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