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Suicide attack kills 56 in Pakistan tribal belt

YAKAGHUND, Jul 9 – A suicide attacker and suspected car bomb caused carnage in a busy Pakistani market outside a government office on Friday, killing 56 people and burying victims under pulverised shops.

The devastation struck Yakaghund town in the district of Mohmand, one of seven that make up Pakistan\’s northwest tribal belt which Washington has branded a global headquarters of Al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.

It was the deadliest attack in nuclear-armed Pakistan since gunmen wearing suicide vests stormed prayer halls belonging to the minority Ahmadi community in the city of Lahore in May, killing at least 82 people.

A Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked bombing spree across Pakistan has killed around 3,500 people in three years since government troops besieged a radical mosque in the capital Islamabad in July 2007.

Witnesses said a huge explosion damaged an administration office, shops, a jail and other buildings in the small town not far from the border with Afghanistan, where 140,000 US-led foreign troops are fighting the Taliban.

Wounded Raj Wali, 23, a labourer who was working on a nearby road at the time of the blast, said he suddenly felt a massive blow to his back.

"I turned round and saw the area engulfed in smoke. People were crying. I also saw body parts scattered near the blast site," he said.

Bodies were laid out on rope-slung cots, covered in white sheets as relatives arrived to identify the dead. A mother, two sisters and son were seen crying wretchedly over the body of one man who was killed.

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Rescue workers were sifting through the debris of partially collapsed buildings and officials feared the death toll could rise further.

"The death toll is 56 now. There are still 89 injured people in different hospitals," local administration official Rasool Khan told AFP.

"Rescue work is also going on to recover people trapped in the debris."

Khan said women and tribal police were among the dead, adding that dozens of shops had been flattened and more than 100 people were treated for injuries.

Buildings in the downtrodden market were made mostly of mud and clay. The force of the explosives collapsed flimsy wooden roofs on more than two dozen shops, twisted shutters and snapped off doors, said an AFP reporter.

Slippers and empty bottles of soft drinks littered the market along with bloodied chunks of flesh.

"We suspect that there were two blasts. One was a suicide attack on a motorbike. We have also found the wreckage of a car. It indicates that a car bomb was detonated with a remote control," Khan told AFP.

"The target is not clear but it could have been the local administration and members of a peace committee who come to my office for routine weekly meetings on Fridays."

At least 28 prisoners held for petty crime escaped after the attack collapsed an outer wall of a local jail, he said.

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Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility, immediate suspicion fell on Islamist militant groups which have carved out havens in the remote and craggy mountains of Pakistan\’s tribal belt outside direct government control.

The Islamic republic is on the frontline of the US war against Al-Qaeda and the Pakistani military are bogged down fighting homegrown Taliban in the northwestern border areas.

Hugging the border with Afghanistan, where US and NATO allies are trying to end a nearly nine-year war, northwest Pakistan has suffered a wave of bombings causing mass casualties and insurgency, fanning fears about regional stability.

Pakistani leaders this week called for a landmark national conference to develop a strategy to counter the Islamist militant threat after a twin suicide attack killed 43 people at a shrine in Lahore on July 2.

Pakistani security forces have fought in the tribal belt and parts of the northwest for years, but deadly clashes are still largely a daily occurrence.

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