GHALANAI, Pakistan — Twin suicide bombers in police uniform killed 40 people in Pakistan's tribal badlands on Monday, attacking an anti-Taliban militia and pro-government elders near the Afghan border.
The bombers badly damaged an administration compound in Ghalanai, the main town in the district of Mohmand, about 175 kilometres (110 miles) northwest of Islamabad and which has been hard hit by Islamist violence.
A purported Pakistani Taliban spokesman claimed responsibility for the attack, threatening death to anyone who forms militias against the Islamists.
Survivor Sakhi Jan, a 50-year-old member of the peace committee -- the anti-Taliban militia -- with injuries to his hand, said "double blasts rocked everything around".
Amjad Ali, a senior administration official in Mohmand district, said 40 people were killed and 60 wounded, with 25 in a serious condition.
"The bombers were wearing tribal police uniform. One of them blew himself up at the main gate and the second in the office," Ali said.
At least 10 government officials and two Pakistani television journalists were among the dead, he said.
Washington considers Pakistan's lawless northwestern tribal belt a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the area is the focus of a covert American drone war targeting senior Taliban militant commanders.
More than 100 people were believed to have been in the compound where government officials, allied tribal elders and members of the local anti-Taliban militia were meeting as the bombers struck Wednesday.
"Tribesmen and elders had been sitting in small groups on the lawn outside the office of the political agent," said Shuja Ahmed, another peace committee member.
Local official Maqsood Amin said the bombs destroyed two rooms in the compound, where an AFP reporter saw pieces of human flesh scattered on the ground and a foot-deep crater gouged out of the lawn.
There were divergent reports on whether at least one bomber blew himself up on a motorbike or whether the attackers came on foot.
Pakistan has long armed and supported tribesmen in a key strategy designed to protect local communities from Taliban encroachments across the northwest.
It was the second suicide attack in five months targeting Mohmand tribal elders allied to the government. On July 9, a suicide car bomb attack killed 105 people in the town of Yakaghund, also in the region.
Around 4,000 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan since government forces raided an extremist mosque in Islamabad in 2007. The attacks have been blamed on Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked networks.
But Mohmand official Shamsul Islam dismissed suggestions that security had been too lax to stop the suicide bombers, who travelled by motorbike.
"Routine security arrangements were in place. It is difficult to stop suicide bombers, they can go anywhere," he told Pakistan's Geo television.
"There was a meeting underway between the local administration chief and tribal elders, members of the peace committee, when the blast took place," local official Maqsood Amin told AFP.
The purported chief of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Our two suicide bombers targeted people who were working against the Taliban," Omar Khalid told AFP by telephone from an unknown location.
"Those who will work against us and make lashkars (tribal army) or peace committees will be targeted.
"Our war is to enforce Sharia (Islamic law) and anyone who hinders our way or sides with America will meet the same fate," Khalid said.
Pakistan flatly denies US suggestions it is not doing enough to tackle Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked militants who have carved out strongholds in the northwest and last year inched closer to the capital Islamabad.
According to Pakistani military statistics, 2,421 army and paramilitary soldiers were killed in fighting from 2002 until April this year.
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