PESHAWAR, Pakistan, (Agencies) – A suicide bomber killed nine people on Friday in an attack on police in the northwestern Pakistani town of Mardan.
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, mainly in the northwest, since last year with security forces attacking militants in sanctuaries near the Afghan border and the militants responding with suicide bomb attacks.
The violence has unnerved investors and compounded an economic crisis that looks set to force Pakistan to agree to International Monetary Fund assistance.
Mardan police chief Akhtar Ali Shah said he was about to leave his office when the attacker detonated his explosives outside. “I was about to leave the office. As my escort went out, the blast took place,” he told Reuters. “The attacker blew himself up close to the escort when my guards tried to stop him entering the offic epremises. Had he entered the office, he would have caused more losses.”
Mohtasim Billah, a senior doctor at Mardan’s main government hospital, said four policemen and five civilians had been killed and about 30 people were wounded, five of them seriously.
A severed head, apparently that of the bomber, had been found, Shah said. Suicide bombers usually strap explosives to their bodies and their heads are cut off in the blast.
President Asif Ali Zardari denounced the attack and said terrorism and extremism would not be tolerated, the state APP news agency reported.
Mardan, 110 km (70 miles) northwest of Islamabad, is the gateway to the Bajaur region on the Afghan border where security forces have been fighting militants since August.
On Friday, doctors said they were running out of drugs and artificial limbs for victims of the earthquake in southwestern Pakistan amid fears that the death toll would climb beyond 300.
The 6.4-magnitude quake hit a poor mountainous region near the Afghan border before dawn Wednesday. It destroyed 3,000 houses and made about 15,000 people homeless.
Troops and relief agencies have scrambled to help communities in remote valleys, from where provincial minister Zamrak Khan said reports of fatalities were still arriving.
Khan said the bodies of 215 people killed had been buried so far. However, he said reports from four badly hit districts indicated that others had been interred without informing authorities and that the real toll was “somewhere above 300.”
Authorities are distributing thousands of tents, blankets, coats and food packages to keep people alive as nighttime temperatures fall to the freezing point. Many in more distant valleys have already spent two nights without shelter and doctors said children were falling ill.