PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AFP) – A suicide car bomber struck near a busy livestock market in Pakistan’s Peshawar city on Sunday, killing 12 people including a former Taliban supporter turned anti-militant mayor, police said.
The bomber also wounded 36 people outside a property of Mayor Abdul Malik on the outskirts of the northwest city troubled by Islamist militancy. Malik, one of a number of city mayors, had raised a militia against Taliban rebels.
Pakistan is currently waging a military offensive against the insurgents in their nearby mountain hideouts, incurring the wrath of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) group, which has retaliated with a wave of deadly attacks.
“The suicide bomber came in a car and exploded it when the mayor was standing with some visitors outside his guesthouse near the local livestock market,” district administration chief Sahibzada Anis told AFP.
Doctor Muslim Khan at Peshawar’s main Lady Reading hospital said that 12 people were killed and 36 wounded in the attack. Hospital officials said that two children were among the dead.
“Abdul Malik and a commander of the local anti-Taliban force are also among the dead,” Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told AFP.
Malik, mayor of Adizai suburb on Peshawar’s outskirts, once had close links to the hardline Taliban movement, but switched sides in 2008 and had raised a local force to battle the Islamist extremists on the fringes of the city.
The mayor had in the past survived a number of attempts on his life by his former allies, who are battling Pakistan’s government and want to impose a harsh brand of Islamic law across swathes of the northwest.
The attacker Sunday detonated 12 kilograms (26 pounds) of explosives close to the market, littering the road with the corpses of cows and twisted metal from ruined vehicles, police and witnesses said.
Mahabat Khan, a 50-year-old livestock dealer, said he had just sold a buffalo and was talking to the buyer when he was knocked to the ground.
“It was a huge blast near us and my foot was injured,” Khan told AFP from his hospital bed. “I heard gunshots after the blast.”
Pakistan has been hit by a wave of blasts and attacks killing more than 350 people since early October. In the deadliest attack in two years, a car bombing killed 118 people on October 28 in Peshawar, the northwest capital.
Islamabad has blamed the attacks on TTP militants avenging both the military offensive against them and the killing of their leader Baitullah Mehsud in a US drone missile strike in the rugged northwest tribal belt in August.
Pakistan launched a fierce, US-endorsed air and ground offensive into South Waziristan on October 17, with some 30,000 troops backed by fighter jets and helicopter gunships laying siege to the Pakistan Taliban’s boltholes.
The semi-autonomous tribal belt has become a bastion for Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels after the 2001 US-led invasion drove them out of Afghanistan, and Washington says the region is one of the world’s most dangerous zones.
Pakistan’s military Sunday said that 20 insurgents had been killed in South Waziristan in the last 24 hours as troops tried to consolidate gains made over three weeks, taking the total insurgent death toll to 478.
The long-awaited thrust into the tribal region came after a spring offensive in and around the northwestern Swat valley, which the government declared a success in July. However, sporadic outbreaks of violence continue there.
Military officials have encouraged local officials and tribal elders to raise militias — known locally as lashkars — to keep the rebels at bay.
Nuclear-armed Pakistan has been plagued by Islamist militancy for years, with more than 2,425 people killed in attacks since July 2007.