December 21, 2007

Suicide Attack Kills 50 In Pakistan

Prayers turned into carnage in Sherpao, as a suicide bomber in Pakistan killed at least 50 people at the home of a former Interior Minister during a celebration of Eid. Suspicion immediately fell on Taliban and al-Qaeda elements fighting against the Musharraf government. The minister had been targeted by a suicide bomber eight months earlier, and has now escaped twice with his life:

A suicide attacker detonated a bomb packed with ball bearings and nails amid hundreds of holiday worshippers Friday at the residential compound of Pakistan's former interior minister, killing at least 50 people, authorities said.

It was the second suicide attack in eight months apparently targeting Aftab Khan Sherpao, who escaped injury. One of his sons was wounded.

Suspicion will likely focus on the pro-Taliban or al-Qaida militants active in the northwestern region of the country where the attack occurred. The attack also deepened the sense of uncertainty in Pakistan as it heads into Jan. 8 parliamentary elections. Sherpao is a candidate for parliament.

Hours after the bombing, security officers raided an Islamic school in the nearby village of Turangzai and arrested seven students, some of them Afghans, two police officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. The officials declined to say whether the raid was connected to the attack.

One has to wonder how the Taliban and al-Qaeda expect to succeed as an Islamist movement. They have almost entirely given up killing infidels and have targeted fellow Muslims exclusively. Obviously, they want to terrorize Pakistanis into avoiding public events, but killing Muslims at prayer while celebrating Eid will have a galvanizing effect, even on the disaffected in Pakistan, and not an effect that will bring them to the AQ banner.

Suicide bombings are not precision attacks, nor are they meant to be. This particular bomb had a design that guaranteed it would kill as many as possible. Police estimate that it contained as much as 17 pounds of explosives, and the bomber filled it with nails and ball bearings for maximum killing power. It literally shredded the people around the attacker as they knelt in prayer.

Clearly the radical Islamists feel threatened by the military action in Swat and elsewhere, and they want to distract the Musharraf government by conducting attacks on civilians elsewhere. That strategy could easily backfire on the radicals. Musharraf's war on AQ and the Taliban has not been terribly popular with Pakistanis, but that could change as the terrorists shred friends and family at holiday celebrations. The terrorists could wind up becoming a vehicle for popular support of a dictator who promises to kill every last one of the lunatics -- a development that would certainly suit US interests.


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