HANGU, (AFP) – A suicide bomber rammed a tractor laden with explosives into a hospital in a town in northwest Pakistan Friday, killing at least 14 people, officials said, in what appeared to be a sectarian attack.
Officials said Shi’ite Muslims were praying in a room inside the hospital when the bomb exploded in the town of Hangu.
Several police officials said the bomber drove the tractor into the hospital in Hangu. They said three policemen were among the dead. Sixteen people were wounded.
Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government faces Taliban insurgents who have sustained a campaign of suicide bombings in defiance of a series of military offensives launched last year against their strongholds in the northwest.
Pakistan has been bracing for sectarian violence during Moharram, the holiest month for Shi’ite Muslims, which began on Wednesday. Sunni militant groups often attack Shi’ite gatherings during this period.
There have been several sectarian attacks and clashes in Hangu in recent years.
Pakistan’s government, which Washington sees as a vital ally in its war against militancy, faces a growing threat from what officials and analysts call a growing nexus of militant groups.
It’s a murky mix that includes al Qaeda, Pakistani Taliban militants and other groups. Some are anti-Western while others are driven mostly by sectarian hatred.
Wednesday, a suicide bomber blew himself up beside a minibus in the nearby town of Kohat, killing at least 16 people, officials said.
The Pakistani Taliban movement, which is linked to al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for a twin suicide bombing on the office compound of a government official in the Mohmand region of the northwest Monday, which killed at least 40 people.