ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – In a blow to hopes that tribal leaders will prove a potent new ally in the fight against Islamic insurgents, a suicide bomber struck an anti-Taliban gathering of tribal elders Friday, killing at least 30 people and injuring about 100 others.
The attack on the tribal council took place in Orakzai, normally a relatively quiet corner of the nation’s restive tribal areas. It is located about 60 miles southwest of Peshawar, the main city in Pakistan’s volatile northwest.
Hundreds of people had gathered for the open-air meeting in the remote village of Ghiljo, at which elders of the Alizai tribe were making plans to raise a fighting force and attack a base belonging to the militants.
Pakistani authorities have been providing tribal leaders in such villages with financial and logistical support to raise “lashkars,” or local militias, in a bid to counter the tightening grip of Islamic militant groups in the tribal areas along the Afghan border.
The tribe had already organized some smaller attacks against the Taliban in recent days, including the burning of two compounds occupied by insurgents.
Witnesses said the bomber first rammed his car into the crowd, crushing some people, and then set off his explosives with a thunderous boom. The dead and injured lay clustered in heaps, and area clinics were swiftly inundated with the wounded.
It was the second attack in recent days on anti-Taliban tribal leaders. Authorities on Thursday recovered the decapitated bodies of four men from the Bajaur tribal agency who were believed to have been abducted by militants after helping organize a tribal militia.
Pakistan’s civilian government, in power nearly eight months, has been struggling to formulate a comprehensive policy for confronting the insurgents, whose unrelenting campaign of suicide bombings has set Pakistani cities and towns on edge.