(photo credit: AP)
A suicide attacker detonated a bomb packed with ball bearings and nails amid hundreds of holiday worshippers Friday at the home of Pakistan's former interior minister, killing at least 42 people, authorities said.
It was the second suicide attack apparently targeting Aftab Khan Sherpao in eight months. Election-related violence is common in Pakistan, but suspicion over the bombing 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, which came during the Islamic holy day of Eid al-Adha, created a scene of carnage at the mosque at Sherpao's residential compound in Sherpao, a village 40 kilometers northeast of the city of Peshawar.
Bloodied clothes, hats, shoes and pieces of flesh were strewn about the building. Witnesses said the dead included police officers guarding Sherpao, who was praying in the mosque's front row at the time of the attack but not injured.
"We were saying prayers when this huge explosion occurred," said Shaukat Ali, a 26-year-old survivor of the blast whose white cloak and pants were torn and spattered with blood. "It almost blew out our ear drums. Then it was it was like a scene from Doomsday."
The bomber was praying in a row of worshippers when he detonated the explosive, provincial police chief Sharif Virk said. Hundreds of people were in or around the mosque, about 40 meters from Sherpao's house, witnesses said.
The blast killed at least 42 people and wounded dozens of others, police at the scene said, although another officer, local police chief Feroz Shah, said 55 were dead and over 100 wounded.
The hospital in Peshawar was wracked with chaos as the injured arrived in pickup trucks, ambulance sirens wailed and wounded screamed for help. The injured were also taken to hospitals in Charsadda and Tangi. The bomb contained between 6 and 8 kilograms of explosives and was filled with nails and ball bearings to maximize casualties, said the head of the bomb unit at the scene, who declined to give his name.
Shafiq Khan, a witness who went to the scene after the blast, said Sherpao's youngest son, Mustafa, was slightly wounded, while another son, former provincial assembly member Sikander Sherpao, was not hurt.
After the blast, Sherpao's house was protected by about a dozen armed police and paramilitary troops.
In a brief telephone interview with The Associated Press, Sherpao said he was unhurt. "Yes, I'm fine."
Sherpao was interior minister, Pakistan's top civilian security official, in the administration recently dissolved ahead of January parliamentary elections. He is head of the Pakistan Peoples Party-Sherpao, and is running as a candidate for parliament in next month's elections.
Islamic militants have repeatedly targeted top figures in the government of President Pervez Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terror.
The army says the most recent attacks could be retaliation for a military operation against militants in the Swat valley, where it claims to have killed about 300 militants since last month.
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