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Suicide bomber hits Pakistani mosque, killing 11

The attack is the latest by militants as they fight a government crackdown. Meanwhile, an anti-corruption court issues a summons for the country's top law enforcement official.

December 19, 2009|By Alex Rodriguez

Reporting from Islamabad, Pakistan — A suicide car bomber Friday attacked a mosque next to a police headquarters in northwest Pakistan and killed at least 11 people, the latest in a wave of retaliatory violence engineered by militants battling Pakistani troops along the Afghan border.

Troops are wrapping up a military offensive in South Waziristan aimed at routing the Pakistani Taliban and dislodging Al Qaeda militants from hide-outs there. The military has succeeded in taking control of the region, but most Taliban and Al Qaeda commanders and militants have fled to neighboring districts in the tribal areas, including Kurram and Orakzai.

In the meantime, militants have fought back with a series of suicide bombings and raids in major cities across Pakistan. Those attacks have killed more than 500 people.

Friday's attack occurred in Lower Dir, a region adjacent to the Swat Valley, which Pakistani forces retook from Taliban militants over the summer. Pockets of militants remain in Dir and Swat, however, and they occasionally unleash attacks on checkpoints, police offices and local bazaars.

The bomber rammed his car into the mosque's front gate and detonated his explosives, police said. At least 29 people were injured.

As President Asif Ali Zardari contends with the threat of militancy in the northwest, his government has begun to feel the fallout from a Supreme Court ruling Wednesday striking down an amnesty that had shielded thousands of government officials and bureaucrats from corruption charges.

An anti-corruption court in Karachi on Friday issued a summons for the nation's top law enforcement official, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, a Zardari aide and 50 other people. The summons requires them to appear in court Jan. 8.

Malik is one of several top officials who were protected by the amnesty but now may have criminal cases against them reopened. Although the list includes Zardari, the constitution grants him immunity from prosecution while he remains in office.

The amnesty was granted by President Pervez Musharraf in 2007 and was meant to allow Zardari's wife, former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to return from self-imposed exile to Pakistan without the prospect of corruption charges. She had said the allegations of corruption were politically motivated.

When Bhutto was assassinated in December 2007, Zardari took over as her party's chief and later was elected president by national and provincial lawmakers.

The amnesty had voided several corruption cases Zardari had faced, including a charge that he misappropriated $1.5 billion when his wife was in power. Though his aides say his presidential immunity keeps those cases from being reopened, his opponents contend that he should not retain that immunity because a previous conviction should have rendered him ineligible for the presidency.

Pakistani law bars anyone who has a recorded conviction from running for president.

As a result of the court's ruling, Pakistan's anti-corruption agency, the National Accountability Bureau, said that nearly 250 officials who benefited from the amnesty could not leave the country.

On Thursday, authorities kept Defense Minister Ahmed Mukhtar, one of the amnesty's beneficiaries, from boarding a plane to China on official business. On Friday, Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani suspended several top law enforcement officials over the incident. Mukhtar was reported not to be on the list of those barred from leaving the country.

alex.rodriguez@latimes.com

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