A female suicide bomber has detonated her explosives-laden vest in a crowded aid distribution centre in north-west Pakistan, killing at least 41 people and wounding dozens waiting for food stamps, officials said.
The attack appeared to be the first suicide bombing staged by a woman in Pakistan, and it underscored the resilience of militant groups in the country’s tribal belt despite ongoing military operations against them.
The bomb hit the main city in Bajur, a region near the Afghan border where the military has twice declared victory over Taliban and al Qaida insurgents. It also came a day after some 150 militants killed 11 soldiers in a coordinated assault in a neighbouring region where the army also has carried out operations.
The bomber, dressed in a traditional women’s burqa, first lobbed two hand grenades into the crowd waiting at a checkpoint outside the food aid distribution centre in the town of Khar, local police official Fazal-e-Rabbi Khan said. The attacker then detonated her explosives vest, he said.
Khan said the victims were from various parts of the Bajur tribal region who gather daily at the centre to collect food tokens distributed by the World Food Programme and other agencies to conflicted-affected people in the region. The people were displaced by an army offensive against Taliban militants in the region in early 2009.
Islamist militants battling the state have attacked buildings handing out humanitarian aid in Pakistan before, presumably because they are symbols of the government and Western influence. Local government official Tariq Khan said the blast also wounded 60 people, some critically.
Although women rarely become suicide bombers in Pakistan, Tariq Khan and another local official, Sohail Khan, said an examination of the human remains has confirmed the bomber was a woman.
Akbar Jan, 45, who sustained leg wound in the bombing, said from his hospital bed that people were lining up for the ration coupons when something exploded with a big bang.
“We thought someone had fired a rocket,” he said, adding: “I realised a little later that I myself have suffered wounds. Everybody was crying. It was blood and human flesh everywhere.”
Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the bombing and said Pakistanis are “united against them”.