Mon, Feb 19, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Pakistan police detain 36 court bombing suspects

SUSPICION Officials said they believed Afghans had been involved in the bombing of a courtroom that killed a judge and 15 others, but had no hard evidence

AP , QUETTA, PAKISTAN

Police in southwestern Pakistan have detained 36 people, mostly Afghan refugees, for questioning about a suicide bombing inside a courtroom that killed a judge and 15 other people, an official said yesterday.

The suicide bomber struck a crowded courtroom in the city of Quetta on Saturday in the deadliest of a series of attacks in recent weeks.

There is suspicion in Pakistan that pro-Taliban militants are targeting sensitive sites to undermine the country's support of the US and an official in the region where Saturday's attack took place hinted at Afghan involvement.

The explosion wounded 24 people and left bloodied clothes and body parts scattered next to wrecked furniture and shattered glass in the Quetta District Courts. It forced police -- already on alert -- to further tighten security nationwide.

The chief of police in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, said yesterday that 36 people, including at least 22 Afghan refugees living in the city, have been detained in a probe into the bombing.

"We will investigate them to determine whether anyone among them has any link with the incident," police chief Raho Khan Brohi said.

The men were picked up in separate raids across Quetta late on Saturday but no one was a suspect or formally arrested in the case, Brohi said.

"Afghans have been involved in previous such attacks here. I cannot rule out their involvement," said Jam Mohammed Yousaf, the top elected official in Baluchistan, on Saturday. "We don't have any evidence to prove it."

Relations between the neighboring countries have soured over Afghan allegations that Pakistan is supporting Taliban militants who have escalated their campaign of violence in the neighboring country over the past year. Pakistan denies helping the militants but acknowledges that some operate from its soil.

Increasingly, it appears Pakistan itself has become a battleground. There have been about 10 bombings in the past month, mostly in the northwest, but the capital Islamabad has also been targeted in suicide attacks at its international airport and the Marriott Hotel.

Saturday's blast in Quetta, a city where Taliban activists and leaders are alleged to hide, was by far the deadliest.

The suicide bomber "entered the courtroom on foot and he immediately exploded himself," Yousaf said.

The blast killed Judge Abdul Wahid, five lawyers and some of the relatives of prisoners who were on trial, Yousaf said. He could not give details about the prisoners' identities or the cases being heard. The attacker died, along with 15 others.

Police have recovered the head and other body parts of the suspected bomber, and the remains have been sent to a hospital near the capital for DNA tests.

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