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Aid agencies have closed down much-needed food-aid operations in parts of northwest Pakistan after a female suicide bomber struck a crowd at a food aid distribution center Saturday, killing at least 45 people and wounding as many as 100 more.
Government officials Sunday closed emergency food distribution centers in the Bajaur tribal region, an area near the Afghan border where both Al Qaeda and the Taliban operate, after the bombing in the town of Khar. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which is one of the first by a female suicide bomber in Pakistan. It has sparked concern that the organization may begin to dispatch more female bombers, who are more difficult to detect because of their clothing.
Agence France-Presse reports that Pakistani officials confirmed Sunday that the bomber was a woman, as witnesses had reported Saturday. A Pakistani official called it the first confirmed case of a female suicide bomber in Pakistan, though The New York Times reports that it is the second.
An attack on an anti-Taliban tribe?
A Pakistani Taliban spokesman said the attack targeted the Salarzai tribe, which has allied itself with the government and formed an anti-Taliban militia.
Pakistani security forces have repeatedly battled the Taliban in the tribal region that includes Bajaur, but have failed to defeat the organization despite declaring several times that it had cleared the area. On Friday, 150 fighters attacked military checkpoints in the neighboring Mohmand district, leaving 11 Pakistani soldiers and as many as 24 militants dead, reports The Washington Post.
Most of the people killed in Saturday’s attack had been displaced by fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistani military. The Los Angeles Times reports that hundreds of people were waiting outside the World Food Program distribution area in the early morning when the bomber attacked.
A Pakistani official told The New York Times that security forces stopped a woman wearing a burqa at a checkpoint leading to the distribution center. She threw a grenade into the crowd, and then detonated herself, he said. Witnesses reported hearing her scream before the explosion.
Female suicide bombers
Suicide bombings by females spiked in Iraq in 2008 as Al Qaeda and other militant organization used women to avoid security and inflict more damage. In Iraq, as well as Pakistan, cultural practices prevent male security guards from searching women, and women can easily hide explosives under the long loose clothing they wear in public. The Christian Science Monitor reported that in response to the phenomenon in Iraq, women were recruited to be security guards. The Tamil Tigers, a militant organization in Sri Lanka, have also deployed women as suicide bombers.
But female bombers have not been widely used in Pakistan, though Taliban leaders have warned of them. The Pakistani newspaper Dawn warns that Saturday’s attack may mark a change in tactics that could become a dangerous trend. The paper reports that militant groups have long warned they had “trained squads of female bombers that could be sent on mission any time.”