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Suicide bomber kills at least 42 seeking food aid in Pakistan

At least 60 more are wounded in the attack near the Afghan border. The assailant wore a burka but could have been a man in disguise.

December 25, 2010|By Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King | Special to The Times

Reporting from Peshawar and Kabul — A suicide bomber dressed in an all-enveloping burka struck a crowded food distribution center in Pakistan's volatile tribal region Saturday, killing at least 42 people and injuring more than 60 others, officials said.

The attack in the town of Khar, the administrative center of the Bajaur tribal area, came amid ongoing fighting between Pakistan security forces and insurgents in the region bordering Afghanistan. A major clash in the neighboring Mohmand tribal area about 24 hours earlier had left 11 troops and about two dozen militants dead.

With as many as 1,000 people lined up in the morning chill, awaiting food aid, the attacker first hurled grenades into the crowd, then detonated explosives that were worn or carried. Hours afterward, officials were still trying to determine whether the bomber was a woman, or a man disguised as one.

Witnesses described a horrific aftermath, with mangled bodies and bloodied clothing scattered widely and wounded people crying out for help. The most critically injured were taken to hospitals in Peshawar, the nearest large city. Officials said the death toll could rise.

Most of those at the distribution center were impoverished refugees who had been displaced by fighting between Taliban militants and the security forces in Bajaur and elsewhere along the border with Afghanistan. More than 300,000 people have been driven from their homes by a military push against the insurgents that began in 2008.

"People come to the center before dawn and wait their turn to get food," said Ansar Khan, who witnessed the attack. He said the assault began moments after guards stopped the assailant at a checkpoint just outside the distribution area.

On the Afghan side of the border, NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it had killed two insurgents Friday night in raids in the provinces of Khowst and Logar. Many militants affiliated with the Taliban and the Haqqani network take shelter in Pakistan between staging attacks on Western troops inside Afghanistan.

The NATO force also said Saturday that a deadly raid on a compound in the capital, Kabul, a day earlier was prompted by a "credible threat" of attack against the U.S. Embassy. Two men were killed in the attack on the compound, which belonged to a private Afghan security firm, and Afghan officials suggested that it might have been a case of mistaken identity.

Both NATO and the Afghan government said an investigation was continuing.

Ali is a special correspondent.

laura.king@latimes.com

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