Suicide bomber near Pakistan mosque kills 10


ISLAMABAD (AP) — A suicide car bomber detonated his explosives near a mosque inside a police compound in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 10 people in the latest attack by suspected Taliban militants waging war against the government.

The Pakistani military has fought back with several major operations against Taliban strongholds in the country. The U.S. military has applauded the effort but has urged the government to expand its fight to target militants staging cross-border attacks against coalition troops.

It has also increased the number of drone missile strikes against militants in Pakistan’s lawless tribal area near the Afghan border.

A suspected U.S. drone fired three missiles at a house in North Waziristan on Friday, killing three militants and injuring two others, said intelligence officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

It was the third such strike in North Waziristan in the past 24 hours.

The Taliban have stepped up their campaign of violence inside Pakistan since the military launched a major offensive in mid-October in the militant stronghold of South Waziristan. Friday’s car bombing was the second attack in two weeks against a mosque used by Pakistan’s security forces.

Most of the 10 people killed in the attack in the Lower Dir region were police leaving the mosque after Friday prayers, said the area’s police chief, Feroze Khan.

The blast wounded another 28 people, also mostly police, said a local hospital official, Ghulam Mohammed.

No group has taken responsibility for the bombing, but the Taliban has carried out similar attacks throughout the country.

Lower Dir is next to the Swat Valley, which Pakistani soldiers wrested from the Taliban earlier this year. But periodic attacks have continued in the area.

Militants have also staged attacks in Pakistan’s heartland, many of them against the country’s security forces.

A team of militants armed with guns, grenades and bombs raided a mosque near army headquarters outside of Islamabad on Dec. 4, killing 36 people.

Despite the recent wave of violence, which has killed more than 500 people in the past two months, the Pakistani military has vowed to continue its offensive in South Waziristan and crack down on other militants who threaten the state.

But recent political turmoil surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down an amnesty for Pakistani officials charged with corruption threatens to distract the government from the fight.

Pakistan’s defense minister was blocked from leaving the country Thursday along with nearly 250 other top officials following the court’s decision.

The country’s anti-corruption agency said the officials were now under investigation following this week’s court verdict, which meant that up to 8,000 graft and other cases dating back to the 1990s have been, or will soon be, reopened. Some of those who benefited from the amnesty are reported to have had convictions quashed.

U.S.-allied President Asif Ali Zardari and several of his key aides are among those who benefited from the amnesty deal. Zardari is protected by constitutional immunity from any criminal prosecution, but opponents say they plan to challenge his eligibility for office.

Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling has been welcomed by many Pakistanis, who viewed the graft amnesty as an immoral piece of legislation that whitewashed the crimes of the elite.

It was introduced as part of a U.S.-backed deal to allow Zardari’s wife, the late Benazir Bhutto, to return from self-imposed exile in 2007 and contest elections safe in the knowledge she would be immune to old graft accusations she insisted were politically motivated.

The 54-year-old, who heads the country’s largest party, is already unpopular, in large part because of his close ties with Washington. He now faces the prospect of bruising court battles that will likely mean old corruption charges come under fresh scrutiny.

Critics say he is morally obligated to resign, at least while the court hears any challenges to his rule.

The Obama administration needs political stability in Pakistan to succeed in neighboring Afghanistan, where violence against U.S. and NATO troops is running at all time highs.