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Pakistani investigators hunt bombers as toll rises

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistani investigators were hunting on Monday for links between a surge of violence in the northwest and an assault on a mosque in the capital as the death toll from two suicide-bomb attacks on Sunday rose to 45.

Nearly 100 people, most of them members of the security forces, have been killed in attacks in the northwest since July 3 when government forces surrounded Islamabad’s Lal Masjid, or Red Mosque, after clashes erupted.

There are also fears the collapse of a 10-month pact with militants in the North Waziristan region on the Afghan border would lead to more violence.

“We haven’t found any clues yet but we’re looking into that,” said a senior investigator in the city of Dera Ismail Khan, referring to the government action against the mosque.

“Yesterday’s attacks are likely linked to the Lal Masjid,” said the investigator, who declined to be identified.

A suicide bomber mingled with a crowd of young men at a police recruiting centre in Dera Ismail Khan, in North West Frontier Province (NWFP), on Sunday before blowing himself up. Twenty-nine people were killed.

Earlier on Sunday, two suicide car-bombers ambushed a paramilitary patrol in the scenic Swat valley, also in NWFP, killing 16 people.

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Militants based in the North and South Waziristan tribal regions with allies in towns and cites were believed responsible, the investigator said.

Pakistan’s main stock index closed 1.81 percent lower on worry over the violence, dealers said.


Pakistan’s rugged northwest is a hotbed of al Qaeda and Taliban support. Militants based in tribal regions on the Afghan border have been expanding their influence across the province.

Commandos stormed the fortified mosque-school Lal Masjid compound last Tuesday, ending a week-long siege and killing 75 supporters of hardline clerics.

Many of the militants at the mosque, and many of the religious students who studied there, were believed to have been from the NWFP and security analysts had expressed fears of a backlash.

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Complicating things for U.S. ally President Pervez Musharraf was the collapse of a peace pact in North Waziristan. Militants there said on Sunday they were abandoning the pact after accusing authorities of violating it.

Rahimullah Yousafzai, a veteran journalist and expert on the region, said the Lal Masjid assault, the collapse of the pact, and the deployment of reinforcements to parts of the northwest were all stoking violence.

“Lal Masjid has just further provoked these people who have already made up their minds to attack the military. It’s added fuel to fire,” he said.

Yousafzai said military operations might bring some short-term success but were only likely to provoke more violence. In the longer-term, the ethnic Pashtun tribes, some of which have been supporting militants, should be involved.

“There’s no quick, clear fix but at least tension could be eased by following local customs and using the local jirga system,” he said, referring to tribal councils which traditionally settle conflict.

Separately, militants torched 35 stalls selling cannabis in the NWFP town of Darra Adam Kheil, a district official said.

In the city of Karachi, gunmen on a motorcycle shot and wounded a cleric and his driver in an apparent sectarian attack, police said.