- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 29, 2007

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomber yesterday killed at least 26 persons and wounded scores of others, including Pakistani Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, who said he had been the target of the attack.

The blast occurred as people gathered around Mr. Sherpao at the end of a public meeting in Charsadda, a town 12 miles northeast of Peshawar, the capital of North-West Frontier Province.

“It was a target killing, and I was the target. It was a suicide attack. I have suffered minor injuries,” Mr. Sherpao told Pakistan Television.

“It was not a big bang. It was a thud, but the impact was massive. The attacker was apparently walking behind us,” he told Reuters.

One of Mr. Sherpao’s aides and several of his security detail were killed, and police said they had found the head and torso of the bomber.

Mr. Sherpao was slightly wounded.

“We have got the severed head of the bomber, and it is identifiable. He appears to be between 30 and 35 years old,” said Asif Iqbal Daudzai, information minister for the provincial government.

Doctors in Charsadda and Peshawar said scores of people had been wounded, and several were in a critical condition. Hundreds of anxious and grieving relatives thronged the hospitals.

“Twenty-six bodies have been counted, but the toll is likely to rise,” a senior security official said.

Peshawar and areas nearby have been plagued by bomb attacks following President Pervez Musharraf’s decision in 2001 to join a U.S.-led war on terrorism, with a spate of suicide attacks earlier this year, including one in the capital, Islamabad.

In Washington, White House spokesman Tony Fratto said the attack “shows the terrorists are out there, as we saw from this activity in Pakistan, but also from the roundup in Saudi Arabia.”

“It’s a determined enemy out there that wants to cause destruction, and our determination needs to exceed theirs,” Mr. Fratto said.

Saudi Arabia said on Friday it had thwarted a plot to attack oil facilities and other installations, and 172 persons had been arrested.

Gen. Musharraf was visiting Bosnia during the attack.

“Such acts of terrorism would not weaken Pakistan’s resolve to fight terrorism,” he said in a message issued via the state-run news agency, Associated Press of Pakistan.

Mr. Sherpao said Afghan President Hamid Karzai, a fellow ethnic Pashtun, telephoned him soon after the attack to ask how he was.

Gen. Musharraf will not cancel the last leg of his European tour after the suicide attack and will proceed today to Turkey, where he is scheduled to meet Mr. Karzai, a Bosnian presidency official told Reuters.

“He will go on with his trip and will fly to Turkey tomorrow morning,” the official said yesterday.

Earlier yesterday, a small blast outside a cafeteria at Peshawar International Airport broke windows but caused no casualties.

The North-West Frontier Province, which borders Afghanistan, is one of the most volatile regions of Pakistan.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban have drawn support from the fiercely independent tribesmen of the North-West Frontier Province, particularly in North and South Waziristan, the poorest of Pakistan’s seven semiautonomous tribal regions.

The provincial information minister was certain the suicide attack was connected to the seething situation on the border.

“It has obvious links with what is happening in the tribal areas,” Mr. Daudzai said.

On Friday, a missile strike in Waziristan killed at least three suspected Islamist militants and wounded two others, said an unidentified intelligence official.

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