Tuesday, February 23, 2010

MINGORA, Pakistan | A suicide bomber targeting Pakistani security forces set off a blast that ripped through a busy market in the northwestern Swat Valley on Monday, killing at least eight people and wounding dozens of others, officials and witnesses said.

The attack in the district capital of Mingora was the latest violence in the restive border region with Afghanistan where the military has been waging offensives against Taliban militants who have been fighting back, often with homemade bombs.

Monday’s explosion occurred at a downtown intersection surrounded by small shops and stalls as at least two vehicles carrying security forces passed by, officials and witnesses said.

The blast ripped out shop fronts and blew out the windows of cars on the street, television footage from the scene showed. Several cars were gutted, and a fire engine rushed to extinguish a blaze ignited by the explosion.

“It was a suicide attack. Its target was security forces,” said Maj. Mishtaq Khan, the army spokesman in Swat. Two soldiers were among the 37 people wounded, he said.

Dr. Lal Noor, head of the Saidu Sharif Hospital in Mingora, said the bodies of eight people killed were brought to the facility.

Swat police Chief Mohammad Idrees said items found at the scene, including parts of a cell phone and a watch, were believed to have come from the suicide bomber.

The Pakistani military launched a major offensive in the mountainous Swat Valley early last year after peace deals with local Taliban collapsed and the militants took control of parts of the region, just four hours’ drive from the national capital, Islamabad. The military took back the Swat Valley by mid-2009, but sporadic violence has continued.

In another part of the restive northwest, the decapitated bodies of two Sikhs were found almost a month after they were kidnapped in the Khyber tribal region, officials said Monday. Local government official Jawed Khan said the family of one of the two men told authorities that kidnappers had demanded $175,000 in ransom for his return.

Sikhs are a tiny minority in Islamic Pakistan, though there is a sizable community in the northwest that has increasingly suffered persecution as Islamic extremists have gained influence in recent years.

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