From the Gulf Daily News:
PESHAWAR, Pakistan: More than 26 people were killed and 25 wounded, including a federal minister, in a powerful suicide blast at a political rally in northwest Pakistan yesterday.
Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao had just addressed the public gathering when the bomber rushed towards the stage, setting off a huge explosion, witnesses said.
Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier Javed Cheema said five police were killed, apparently preventing the attacker from reaching Sherpao.
“Twenty-six people were killed and 25 others are wounded in the suicide attack,” he said, adding that Sherpao escaped with minor injuries.
The attack took place in the town of Charsada in North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.
Sherpao is staunch supporter of President Pervez Musharraf and has been a prominent figure in touting the government’s achievements in the fight against terrorism.
Private TV channel footage showed the visibly shaken minister with blood on his clothes being escorted by a group of people.
Most of the men encircling Sherpao and taking him to a car also had blood on their long, white shirts.
The interior ministry said Sherpao was given first aid at a hospital in Charsada and then taken to his Peshawar residence.
A witness Gulzada said the bomber was a bearded man in his 40s.
“I was near the stage when the explosion occurred. I saw people on the stage thrown up several feet and there was screaming all around,” the witness, who was also injured, said.
Gulzada said there were more than 400 people in the rally, mainly workers of Sherpao’s political party.
President Pervez Musharraf, currently in Bosnia on a visit, and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz issued statements condemning the attack and vowed it would not deter Pakistan’s resolute campaign to wipe out terrorism.
Police officer Jehanzib Khan said more than 15 people were killed on the spot while others died in hospital. Ambulances ferried the wounded to hospitals in Charsada, 35km northeast of provincial capital Peshawar.
Provincial police chief Sharif Virk said the head of the bomber, who appeared to be an Afghan, was found at the scene.
The border province has a large community of Afghan refugees, most living in camps in the troubled region.
NWFP, the home province of the ethnic Pashtun minister, has been through years of violence in the semi-autonomous tribal areas where Pakistani forces are battling Al Qaeda and Taliban militants.
Witness Alaf Khan said Sherpao was receiving guests from his political party when the attacker struck. “The people were garlanding the minister when all of a sudden a big explosion took place,” Khan said.
Peshawar and its surrounds have been plagued by bomb attacks following President Pervez Musharraf’s decision in 2001 to join a US-led war on terrorism, with a spate of suicide attacks earlier this year, including one in the capital, Islamabad.
Earlier, there was a small blast outside a cafeteria at Peshawar International Airport that broke windows, but caused no casualties. Bordering Afghanistan, the North West Frontier province is one of the most volatile regions of Pakistan.