KHAR, Pakistan – A burqa-clad female suicide bomber in Pakistan lobbed hand grenades, then detonated her explosive belt among a crowd at an aid center Saturday, killing at least 45 people.
Police believed it was the first time Islamic militants have sent a woman to carry out a suicide attack in Pakistan, where the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan against al-Qaida and the Taliban insurgents continues to spill over despite Islamabad’s repeated claims of victory on its side of the border.
The bomber, dressed in the head-to-toe burqa robes, was challenged by police at a checkpoint, officials said.
She then charged toward a group of 300 people lined up outside the food aid distribution center in the town of Khar, tossing two hand grenades before blowing herself up, officials said. The crowd was made up of people who have fled conflicts elsewhere in the area.
President Barack Obama condemned the bombing as “outrageous.”
The attack in Khar came a day after 150 militants waged pitched gunbattles against five security posts in the adjourning Mohmand tribal region to the south. The fighting left 11 soldiers and 24 militants dead.
Helicopter gunships backed by artillery continued the battle on Saturday, pounding enemy hideouts and killing another 40 militants, said Amjad Ali Khan, the top government official in Mohmand.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for Saturday’s suicide attack in Khar, through its spokesman, Azam Tariq.
The spokesman suggested the victims may have been targeted because most of them belonged to the Salarzai tribe, which was among the first to set up a militia – known as a lashkar – to fight the Taliban in 2008. The attack killed 45 people, including six policemen, and wounded more than 100, at least 30 critically, said Tariq Khan, a government official in the Bajur region.