Suicide bomber kills 50 in attack on tribal leaders in northwestern Pakistan
Taliban suicide bombers killed 50 people and wounded more than 100 in an attack today on a government official's office in northwestern Pakistan.
A pair of suicide bombers dressed as tribal policemen detonated at the compound of the senior government representative in Ghalalnai, the administrative seat of the tribal agency of Mohmand in Pakistan's northwest. The first bomber detonated his vest at the gate of the compound, and the second detonated his vest inside the building shortly afterward.
The Taliban bombers targeted a meeting of local administration officials and tribal leaders who have organized in an attempt to raise militias and oppose Taliban rule. Policemen, government officials, tribal leaders, and two journalists were among those killed.
Omar Khalid, the leader of the Taliban in Mohmand, took credit for the attack and warned anyone working with the government would meet the same fate.
"We will continue to attack all pro-government officials and their supporters who try to join any peace committees or Lashkars," Khalid said, according to CNN.
"There was a meeting underway between the local administration chief and tribal elders, members of the peace committee (anti-Taliban militia) when the blast took place," a local official in Mohmand said.
On July 9, the Taliban carried out a nearly identical attack in Mohmand, when a suicide bomber detonated his vest outside the office of the deputy political agent of the tribal agency, who was also meeting anti-Taliban tribal leaders. More than 100 people were killed in the attack.
Over the past several years, the Taliban have savagely attacked tribal leaders who oppose their rule in the tribal areas and the greater northwest. Tribal opposition has been violently attacked and defeated in Peshawar, Dir, Arakzai, Khyber, and Swat. Suicide bombers have struck at tribal meetings held at mosques, schools, hotels, and homes [see LWJ report, Anti-Taliban tribal militia leader assassinated in Pakistan's northwest, for more information on the difficulties of raising tribal lashkars in Pakistan's northwest].
Mohmand Taliban under command of able leader
The Mohmand Taliban are commanded by Omar Khalid, who is a deputy of Hakeemullah Mehsud's Taliban movement. Khalid is considered one of the Taliban's most effective and powerful leaders in the tribal areas. He also maintains close ties to al Qaeda and is believed to have given sanctuary to Ayman al Zawahiri in the past.
Khalid gained prominence in Mohmand during the summer of 2007 after taking over a famous shrine and renaming it the Red Mosque, after the radical mosque in Islamabad whose followers had attempted to impose sharia in the capital.
The Mohmand Taliban took control of the tribal agency after the Pakistani government negotiated a peace agreement with the extremists at the end of May 2008. The deal required the Taliban to renounce attacks on the Pakistani government and security forces. The Taliban said they would maintain a ban on the activities of nongovernment organizations in the region but agreed not to attack women in the workplace as long as they wore veils. Both sides exchanged prisoners.
The Taliban promptly established a parallel government in Mohmand. Sharia courts were formed, and orders were given for women to wear the veil in public. "Criminals" were rounded up and judged in sharia courts. Women were ordered to have a male escort at all times and were prevented from working on farms. The Taliban also kidnapped members of a polio vaccination team.
In July 2008, Khalid became the dominant Taliban commander in Mohmand after defeating the Shah Sahib group, a rival pro-Taliban terror group with ties to the Lashkar-e-Taiba. The military claimed it killed Khalid in January of 2009, but the Taliban denied the report and he has since surfaced.
The Pakistani government has placed a $123,000 bounty on Khalid's head.