- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The death toll from a suicide bombing that targeted Pakistan’s top security official rose to 28 yesterday, the country’s information minister said.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao was left spattered in blood but only slightly injured in the attack Saturday in Charsadda, a town near his home village in North West Frontier Province.

No one took responsibility for the bombing, which occurred just after Mr. Sherpao completed a speech to a rally of his political supporters.

But suspicion inevitably fell on Islamist militants who have repeatedly targeted top Pakistani officials, including President Pervez Musharraf, for supporting the U.S.-led war on terror.

“It is a challenge to stop terrorism, and we are fighting it with full commitment,” Information Minister Mohammed Ali Durrani said.

Hamid Karzai, the president of neighboring Afghanistan, sent a message of condolences and said long-suffering Afghans knew the hurt that Pakistanis were feeling.

Such attacks show the need for “strong cooperation between both countries to fight against terrorists and all those elements who try to bring instability to the region,” Mr. Karzai’s office said.

Mr. Karzai and Gen. Musharraf, who regularly accuse each other of failing to contain militancy, were to hold rare face-to-face talks today in Turkey.

Pakistan has suffered a spate of suicide attacks this year, including attacks on the military and police, and on a five-star hotel in the capital, Islamabad. Officials have blamed militants but have announced no clear results of their investigations.

Witnesses said the attacker on Saturday got within 15 yards of Mr. Sherpao — detonating the bomb among a crowd that had gathered around the minister as he headed for his car to leave.

Mr. Sherpao expressed sorrow over the loss of life, but he later told reporters that such attacks “cannot deter my resolve in the fight against terrorism.”

Officials initially said that 22 persons were killed and 35 wounded. By yesterday, the toll had risen to 28 dead and 52 injured, Mr. Durrani said. Police said most of the victims were local residents, but several of Mr. Sherpao’s police bodyguards were also among the dead.

Top officials have been targeted repeatedly since Pakistan became a Washington ally against al Qaeda in late 2001.

In December 2003, Gen. Musharraf narrowly escaped injury in two massive bombings 11 days apart in the garrison city of Rawalpindi. Seventeen persons were killed in the second bombing.

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