PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A burqa-clad woman blew herself up and killed at least 15 people Monday at a crowded police checkpoint in northwestern Pakistan, police said. It was believed to be the first time a female suicide bomber has struck inside the country.
The bombing, which injured 22 others, apparently was in a rickshaw that was being examined at a police checkpoint around 8:25 a.m. local time in the town of Bannu, said police officer Habib Khan.
Bannu police chief Ameer Hamza Mahsud said that investigation of the bomb site confirmed that the attacker was a woman who was riding in the rickshaw. He added that police had prior intelligence about the possibility female suicide bombers would strike in the town.
While there have been reports of some women being trained to carry out suicide bombings in Pakistan, Monday’s attack appeared to be the first confirmation of such an attack.
Mahsud said the casualty figures were high because scores of people were milling about at a nearby bus stand.
The blast killed four police officers and 11 other people, including the bomber, army spokesman Maj. Gen Waheed Arshad said. Because the attack occurred in a public place, he said he did not believe it was aimed at security forces.
The district hospital in Bannu reported that at least seven of the injured were in critical condition.
Bannu is near the North Waziristan tribal region, about 110 miles south of Peshawar.
In recent months, militants have staged almost daily attacks on security forces in North Waziristan since scrapping a peace agreement with the government.
Militants accused authorities of violating the September 2006 deal by redeploying troops to checkpoints vacated under terms of the accord. Officials said the troops returned because of deteriorating security. Most of the combat has taken place in the rugged mountains along the Afghan border where the U.S. fears al-Qaeda is regrouping and that Osama bin Laden is hiding.
Pakistan is a key ally of the U.S. in its war on terror and says it has about 90,000 troops in the northwest tribal areas to combat militancy and prevent infiltration into neighboring Afghanistan.