A burqa-clad suicide bomber killed 47 people and injured over 100 in an attack on a World Food Programme (WFP) ration distribution point in the Bajaur tribal agency on Saturday.
It was the worst attack in Bajaur Agency since security forces claimed victory against Taliban insurgents in March this year.
The bomber first lobbed a grenade and then detonated the explosives in the midst of a crowd of more than 300 people waiting at a checkpoint for handouts from the WFP in Khar, the main town in Bajaur.
The victims were among hundreds of thousands of people who had fled the fighting between the military and the Taliban over the past three years. Authorities said the attack came at around 8:00 am, when security personnel were screening tribesmen to allow them inside the offices enclave.
There were conflicting reports about the identity of the bomber with some officials saying it was a woman, while others claimed the attacker was a man disguised in a burqa.
Assistant Political Agent of Khar Tariq Khan said the bombing was carried out by a woman.
Police officials Mubashir Khan and Munasib Khan also said the attacker was a woman, who resisted being searched and hurled a hand grenade at security guards at the checkpoint before triggering her bomb.
Security officials said they had been warned that two suicide bombers had entered Bajaur and would carry out attacks on December 22, but had changed their plans.
Security forces cordoned off the site following the attack and some of the injured were airlifted to Peshawar. Doctors at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) said there were several women and children among the casualties.
“I was standing in the queue, when the bomber shoved people to get in front of the line. Security personnel tried to stop the person and opened fire, after which a huge blast rocked the area,” Sher Ali, a Salarzai tribesman who sustained injuries in the blast, told The Express Tribune, from his bed at the LRH.
Akramullah, another tribesman said that Saturday was the Salarzai tribesmen’s turn to get food stipends and around 1,000 people were at the centre to get rations.
The Salarzais are a major regional anti-Taliban tribe who have been backing army operations and have been instrumental in raising tribal militias to fight militants.
A WFP spokesperson Amjad Jamal told The Express Tribune the blast did not occur at their food distribution point, rather at a security check-point some 500 metres away from the political agent office.
Jamal said the WFP has temporarily suspended its operation at four distribution points in the agency and they will be opened after an internal security review and political authorities’ permission. He added that at least 500 families used to visit these centres to get food rations. The two-year-long military operation codenamed Sherdil (Lion Heart) was launched on August 6, 2008. “We think the Bajaur operations have now more or less ended as dedicated military operations,” Maj-Gen Tariq Khan, inspector-general of the paramilitary Frontier Corps, had told reporters at Damadola earlier in March this year.
President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the suicide attack, while the British junior foreign minister Alistair Burt condemned the “appalling” suicide bombing attack.
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.