Wave of Homicide Bombings Leave 51 Dead Across Pakistan

Published July 19, 2007

| Associated Press

Homicide bombers hit a convoy of Chinese workers in southern Pakistan and a police academy and an army camp in the northwest, killing at least 51 people in the latest violence in the week since the army stormed a mosque held by Islamic extremists.

The convoy was passing though the main bazaar in Hub, a town in Baluchistan province near the port city of Karachi, when a moving car blew up next to a police vehicle, officials said.

Hub Police Chief Ghulam Mohammed Thaib said 29 people were killed, including seven police. About 30 other people were wounded, some critically.

"It was laden with very heavy explosives but due to our spacing and our security measures, Allah has been very kind," said Maj. Gen. Saleem Nawaz, a commander of Pakistan's paramilitary Frontier Constabulary.

The police "sacrificed their lives and the Chinese friends were absolutely safe," Nawaz said on Dawn News television.

The Chinese citizens worked at a lead extraction plant in Dudhar in Baluchistan and were temporarily leaving the area for Karachi due to security concerns, police said.

PHOTO ESSAY: Wave of Violence Sweeps Pakistan

Some officials suggested the bomb was remote-controlled. But Thaib and Nawaz, whose men also were guarding the minibus carrying some 10 Chinese technicians and engineers, said it was a suicide attack.

Television reports showed how the blast ripped off the front of several roadside shops. Several damaged cars and buses lay rammed into one another among a tangle of bricks and clothing.

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to telephone and fax requests for comment.

In the northwest, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives when guards prevented him from entering the parade ground of the police academy in Hangu, 45 miles southwest of Peshawar.

The bomber killed six bystanders and one policeman, and another 24 people were wounded, academy chief Attaullah Wazir said.

Late Thursday, another suicide attacker detonated a bomb at a mosque in an army camp at Kohat, about 45 miles south of the northwestern city of Peshawar, police said, killing at least 15 people.

The blast, which also wounded at least seven people, happened during evening prayers, the police reported.

Suicide attacks, bombings and shootings blamed on Islamic extremists and a bloody army siege of radicals in Islamabad's Red Mosque have killed about 270 people in Pakistan so far this month, stirring doubts about the country's stability.

Much of the recent violence has been in North West Frontier Province, especially the region of North Waziristan, where pro-Taliban militants last weekend declared the end of a 10-month-old peace deal. The government has since been trying to revive it.

On Thursday, 30 elders from several tribal regions in the northwest traveled to North Waziristan in the latest government-backed effort to persuade militants to reverse their decision.

"Our urgent demand is that there should be a cease-fire so that we can find a peaceful solution to this problem in a peaceful atmosphere according to tribal traditions," said the group's leader, Malik Waris Khan Afridi.

On Wednesday, militants bombed and strafed an army convoy near Miran Shah, North Waziristan's main town, killing 17 troops. At least eight militants died in clashes with security forces in the area.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf insists the accord — under which the military scaled back its operations in the U.S.-led war on terror in return for pledges from tribal leaders to contain militancy — offers the best long-term hope of pacifying the region.

Intelligence analysts in Washington say the pact has given Al Qaeda new opportunities to strengthen their operations in Pakistan, Afghanistan and beyond.

Pakistan said this assessment lacks substance.

"It does not help simply to make assertions about the presence or regeneration of Al Qaeda in bordering areas of Pakistan. What is needed is concrete and actionable information and intelligence sharing," the Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

Musharraf on Wednesday urged moderate Pakistanis — many of whom are pressing him to resign and restore civilian rule — to help him take on extremists.

Adding to the tension, a suicide bomber on Tuesday killed 16 people at a rally for Pakistan's suspended chief justice, whose legal battle with Musharraf has galvanized opposition to military rule. A verdict in the case is expected as early as Friday.

Critics accuse Musharraf of leading Pakistan toward civil war and using the crisis to shore up U.S. support for his eight-year-old military regime. There is growing concern that year-end elections will be postponed. However, Musharraf insisted Wednesday the ballot would go ahead.

The Hub attack follows the July 8 slaying of three Chinese men in a rickshaw workshop in Peshawar, which drew a protests from Beijing, a key ally of Pakistan, and a pledge from Islamabad to protect some 2,000 to 3,000 Chinese nationals here.

Officials have suggested the Peshawar attack was linked to the then-ongoing army operation against Islamabad's Red Mosque. Troops moved in after Islamic radicals from the mosque kidnapped several Chinese women they accused of being prostitutes.

However, ethnic Baluch insurgents have been blamed for at least two past attacks on Chinese nationals.

"These anti-state elements were also involved in the previous attacks against Chinese citizens," Baluchistan Interior Minister Mir Shoaib Nosherwani said.

China is helping build a deepwater port in Gwadar near the Iranian border that Baluch nationalists view as a symbol of the resource-rich but impoverished province's exploitation.

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