KOHAT, Pakistan (Reuters) – Angry Pakistani tribesmen traded fire with Taliban militants and demolished their houses in a northwestern tribal region after a car suicide attack killed at least 40 people, residents and officials said on Saturday.
Television channels put the death toll at as high as 70.
The bomber drove his explosive-laden car into the middle of a tribal council meeting in Orakzai tribal region on Friday where hundreds of tribesmen were discussing a government-backed plan to raise a lashkar or tribal militia to evict militants.
Pakistan’s tribal areas on the Afghan border are regarded as safe havens for al Qaeda and Taliban militants, and the government is under tremendous pressure from the United States to take stern action to stem the flow of insurgents to Afghanistan.
“Everyone is angry and upset here. The tribesmen attacked houses of the Taliban in Khadizai after the bombing. Two houses have been demolished,” Noorzad Orakzai, a resident of the Khadizai area where attack took place, told Reuters by telephone.
“There have been exchanges of fire throughout the night. It’s still going on,” he added.
Jehanzeb Siddique, a senior government official dealing with tribal areas, told Reuters that they had confirmation of 40 deaths from the car bombing.
Other officials said the death toll could rise further as many of the nearly 100 wounded people were in critical condition while several bodies were still unidentified.
The attack in Orakzai came a day after a suicide blast inside the heavily guarded police headquarters in the capital Islamabad in which eight policemen were wounded.
Orakzai has been the most peaceful of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal regions. Unlike most of the others, Orakzai does not border Afghanistan.
Militants have unleashed a wave of violence in Pakistan in recent months after the military launched major offensives against them in the rugged northwest including Bajaur and Swat regions.
The mounting militant threat prompted the government to convene a closed joint session of the two-chambered parliament for a briefing by intelligence officials on internal security.
The parliamentarians are due to begin debate on the situation after Pakistan’s newly appointed intelligence chief briefed them this week on the militant threat.
But a Pakistani foreign ministry spokesman criticized U.S. missile attacks into Pakistan, saying it will stoke public anger.
Since the start of September the United States has carried out at least nine missile attacks, the latest on Thursday night, and a commando raid on militant targets in Pakistan’s tribal areas.
“Such strikes will fuel anti-American sentiments which will neither beneficial for us nor for the United States,” foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Sadiq said.