Washington Post : Pakistan Arrests 4 In Mosque Bombing

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Pakistan Arrests 4 In Mosque Bombing

Suspects Studied At Islamic School

By Imtiaz Ali | Special to the Washington Post | December 23, 2007

MARDAN, Pakistan, Dec. 22 -- A day after a suicide bomber killed at least 56 people and wounded scores of others at a mosque in a remote village in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, police said they had arrested four students from an Islamic school in a nearby town.

Police detained three Afghans from Helmand province and one Pakistani from Quetta on Friday and transferred them to Pakistani intelligence officials as part of the investigation of the bombing, according to a police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly about the case.

A Pakistani intelligence official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed earlier assumptions that the still-unidentified bomber targeted former interior minister Aftab Khan Sherpao, an ally of President Pervez Musharraf. Sherpao is also a candidate in Jan. 8 parliamentary elections.

Sherpao survived the blast, but his son sustained injuries and members of his security detail were killed. The former minister was seated in the first row of a mosque located inside his residential compound in Sherpao village; the bomb detonated near the middle of the mosque. The blast occurred as a crowd of more than 1,000 people offered prayers on the Muslim holy day of Eid al-Adha.

Mass funerals took place Friday. Many residents of Sherpao continued to express grief and frustration Saturday.

"I know that Mr. Sherpao has done a lot for the development and betterment of this area," said Bakth Jahan, a 28-year-old shopkeeper. "But I know that he has also brought destruction to the people of this area. We have lost a lot of people, and no one can repair this loss." An April bombing in Charsadda district, which includes Sherpao, killed at least 28 people.

Before stepping down as interior minister last month, Sherpao led military and intelligence operations against pro-Taliban and al-Qaeda insurgents. He has been under threat since at least May 2005, when he announced the arrest and transfer to U.S. custody of al-Qaeda operative Abu Faraj al-Libbi.

The government has continued to provide Sherpao with a security detail, even after the end of his five years as interior minister. Investigators are now seeking to determine how the bomber evaded those protections, officials said.