Blast near mosque kills 16 in Pakistan

February 09, 2013 - 7:01:06 am

PARACHINAR: A bomb blast killed 16 people and injured 23 in Pakistan yesterday, in an area that the government said it had cleared of Taliban fighters.

“Most of the dead and injured were returning from Friday prayers at a mosque,” said Mehmood Aslam, the top government official in the area.

The blast took place near a shop in Kalaya, the capital of the semi-autonomous Orakzai region in the ethnic Pashtun belt that runs through northwestern mountains along the Afghan border. No group claimed responsibility.

Security forces launched a major operation in Orakzai in March 2010 to push out militants fleeing a military offensive in the nearby South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. Orakzai was previously seen as a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

The military says several hundred Taliban fighters have been killed in Orakzai since 2010 and the area is under control. But despite losses, the militants have carried out several bomb and gun attacks in the area.

Clearing out militant sanctuaries near the Afghan border is seen as crucial to US efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, particularly in the run-up to the end of the US-led combat mission in 2014.