- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 15, 2007

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A suicide bomber with a warning for American “spies” taped to his leg blew up a restaurant yesterday, killing 25 persons in the old quarter of this frontier city synonymous with violent Islamic radicalism and political intrigue.

Security officials indicate the blast could be retaliation for the weekend killing of Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban’s military chief in nearby Afghanistan — a further sign that the war between Islamic militants and NATO forces is spilling across the border.

The bomb went off in the four-story Marhaba Hotel in Peshawar, which served as the main staging point for mujahedeen in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan in the 1980s.

The lunchtime blast devastated the ground-floor restaurant, leaving corpses and body parts scattered among broken tables and shattered crockery.

Wrapped around the severed leg of the bomber was brown parcel tape bearing an ominous warning scrawled in the Pashto language: “Those who spy for America will face this same fate.”

Two security officials said a close relative of Mullah Dadullah was arrested in the restaurant a few days ago. They declined to identify the relative or say whether the arrest helped the U.S. military kill Mullah Dadullah in Afghanistan over the weekend. He was one of the most senior militant leaders to die since the Taliban regime was ousted in late 2001 for hosting al Qaeda.

Javed Iqbal Cheema, a top Pakistani counterterrorism official, told reporters he did not think yesterday’s bombing was linked to Mullah Dadullah, and denied that Pakistan had provided any intelligence that led to his killing.

Still, a senior investigator said police were examining whether the attack could be linked to events in Pakistan’s volatile tribal regions or Afghanistan, including Mullah Dadullah’s death.

The bomb went off shortly after the restaurant’s Afghan owner, Saddar Uddin, returned from a trip outside with some relatives, said waiter Hassan Khan. Mr. Uddin, his two sons, two other relatives and seven employees were among the dead, he added.

A local intelligence official said Mr. Uddin, an ethnic Uzbek, had links to the party of anti-Taliban warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum, part of the Northern Alliance, which helped the U.S. topple the old regime.

Among the dead were two women and a 5-year-old boy, police said.

Peshawar, the capital of the North-West Frontier Province, has an enduring reputation as a hub for armed militants and a spy-infested nest of political intrigue.

Drawn by the anti-Soviet jihad, Osama bin Laden was based here for several years when he helped recruit and finance a multinational force to fight inside Afghanistan. It would later spawn his al Qaeda network.

After the Taliban regime was ousted, its remnants fled to Pakistan. Leaders of the militia were widely suspected of hiding in cities including Peshawar, just an hour’s drive through the Khyber Pass to the Afghan border.

The city is still home to hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees, many sharing the Pashtun ethnicity of their Pakistani brethren.

Located close to militant strongholds in Pakistan’s semiautonomous tribal areas and the scene also of sectarian tension between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims, the city has suffered regular bomb attacks.

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