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October 10, 2009

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Suicide bomber kills 49 in Pakistan

A SUICIDE bomber blew up his vehicle near a crowded market in northwestern Pakistan yesterday, killing 49 people and pushing the country closer to an offensive against militants in their main stronghold along the Afghan border.

The attack, which also wounded more than 100 people in Peshawar, was Pakistan's deadliest in six months and a reminder of the ability of insurgents to strike in major cities despite operations against them and the death of their leader in a United States missile strike.

The blast was heard several kilometers away and left the charred skeleton of a bus on its side in the middle of the road, next to the twisted remains of a motorbike. Passers-by pulled out the wounded and the dead, including a young girl wearing an orange dress who was heading to a wedding with family members.

One man staggered from the scene, his face covered with blood. People rushed to cover the bodies of victims whose clothes were burned off.

"I understood for the first time in my life what doomsday would look like," said Noor Alam, who suffered wounds to his legs and face and was at a hospital overrun with other casualties.

Peshawar Police Chief Liaqat Ali Khan said the attacker was in a car packed with a "huge" amount of explosives and artillery rounds.

There was no claim of responsibility for the bombing, the target of which was not immediately apparent. Militants typically attack government, military or Western targets, but blasts have taken place in public places before.

Zafar Iqbal, a doctor at the main Peshawar hospital, said 49 people were killed, seven of them children.

"I pray to Allah, please destroy all these people who are killing the innocents," said Sher Akbar from his hospital bed. "People were crying. They were in pain. I thought we were all are dying."

A US missile strike in August killed Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. The group has since named a new leader, Hakimullah Mehsud.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the attack meant the country now "had no other option but to carry out an operation in South Waziristan. We will have to proceed," he said. "All roads are leading to South Waziristan."

The region along the Afghan border is considered the fountainhead of suicide attacks and other militant activity in Pakistan.

The bombing came just days after a suicide attacker evaded tight security to kill five people at the United Nations' World Food Program office in Islamabad and two weeks after a blast killed 11 in another part of Peshawar.

Malik said authorities had arrested a man alleged to have been the "handler" of the UN bomber but gave no details.

Also yesterday, militants ambushed a tanker carrying fuel for US and NATO forces in Afghanistan at a gas station near Peshawar, setting it alight, said Fazal Rabi, a police official.

No deaths or injuries were reported in the attack, which highlighted the vulnerability of the American-led mission in landlocked Afghanistan as Washington debates sending more troops.

Pakistani Taliban have often targeted US and NATO supply convoys, though there have been less attacks reported recently.


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