A bomb-laden car exploded in northwestern Pakistan yesterday as police were trying to pull a body from it, killing seven policemen and a passer-by, authorities said.
It appeared to be the first time militants in Pakistan had targeted security forces by using a body as a lure, and it underscored the challenge facing Pakistan as it tries to root out al-Qaeda, Taliban and other insurgents based along its border with Afghanistan.
The explosion yesterday morning comes less than a week after gunmen attacked Sri Lankan cricket players in eastern Pakistan and amid rising political turbulence from a court decision to bar an opposition leader from office.
The turmoil in the nuclear-armed country is of concern to US and other Western officials, who need Pakistan to focus on combating militants involved in the fight in Afghanistan.
The explosion occurred in the Badaber area, a small town on the outskirts of the main northwest city of Peshawar, where residents recently evicted a group of militants with help from the police. The move prompted militant threats of retaliation.
Initially, senior police official Safwat Ghayur said a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle when officers at a roadblock motioned it to stop near the Khyber tribal region, a part of Pakistan’s semi-autonomous tribal belt where military forces have staged offensives to stem militant activity.
But officials at the scene said further investigation showed the police were led to a trap.
An area police chief, Rahim Shah, said officers were dispatched to Badaber after an unknown caller alerted them to the presence of a body in a car parked not far from a farm field.
“Police went there. They found the white car. They also saw a body inside, but when they were pulling it out, the car bomb went off,” he said, calling it a “new technique.”
Pakistan recently claimed victory in an offensive against militants in Bajur, a nearby tribal region where the military and insurgents have been battling since August.
Officials also say they are close to flushing out militants in nearby Mohmand tribal area.
But while the US has praised those offensives, saying they have helped reduce violence in neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan has raised alarm bells in the West by engaging in peace talks with Taliban militants not far away in the northwest’s Swat Valley.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband on Friday urged Pakistani politicians to stop feuding and unite to focus on the “mortal threat” the country faces from Islamist militants.
Opposition leader Nawaz Sharif intends to lead a massive march on the capital in the coming week after a court ruled he cannot stand for office because of prior criminal convictions.
The main purpose of the so-called “Long March” is to push the government to restore the chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Miliband said it was “vital” that Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Sharif “unite against the mortal threat that Pakistan faces, which is a threat from its internal enemies.”