PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) -Pakistan’s government has formed an investigation team to probe a suicide blast targeting the interior minister which injured him and killed 28 others, officials said Sunday.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao had just addressed a public gathering in the town of Charsada in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan on Saturday when the bomber rushed towards the stage and triggered the explosion.
“We have formed a joint investigation team comprising provincial and federal police and investigation agencies to probe the incident,” NWFP chief minister Akram Durrani told reporters after meeting Sherpao.
Sherpao, a staunch supporter of President Pervez Musharraf, has been a prominent figure in touting the government’s achievements in the fight against terrorism.
“I was the target of this blast,” he told national television.
The interior ministry said Sherpao was given first aid at a hospital in Charsada before being taken to his Peshawar residence.
Officials said Sherpao was not injured badly and had travelled again to Charsada on Sunday, where he attended the funeral prayers of nine dead amid tight security.
Federal Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani told a press conference in Peshawar the death toll rose to 28 on Sunday as two of the injured had died in hospital, adding 52 people were hurt in the blast.
The attacker carried about eight to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) of explosive, Durrani said.
“The government is committed to stopping such incidents,” he added.
Provincial police chief Sharif Virk separately said that investigators had found the head of the suicide bomber. “The bomber appeared to be an Afghan,” Virk said.
Musharraf, currently visiting Bosnia, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz issued statements condemning the attack and vowed it would not deter Pakistan from its resolute campaign to wipe out terrorism.
Officials said Musharraf also spoke to Sherpao by telephone.
Sources close to Sherpao said Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, also an ethnic Pashtun, called the minister to inquire about his health.
NWFP, the home province of the ethnic Pashtun minister, has been through years of violence in its semi-autonomous tribal areas, where Pakistani forces are battling Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Saturday’s bombing is the ninth in a series of suicide blasts that have rocked Pakistan this year leaving scores of people dead, including two in the capital, Islamabad, and others targeting police and troops.
Authorities blamed most of the blasts on Pakistani Taliban militants who were enraged by a military air strike on an alleged Al-Qaeda training facility in the troubled South Waziristan tribal area in January.
In November, a suicide bomber killed 42 soldiers at an army base in Dargai, northwest Pakistan, again in apparent revenge for a missile raid on an alleged terrorist camp.