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Suicide bomber kills 21 in Pakistan

29 December 2015, 17:28

Peshawar - A Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 21 people and wounded dozens Tuesday after crashing into the main gate of a government office in northwest Pakistan, officials said.

The blast in the town of Mardan demonstrated the Pakistani Taliban's continued ability to stage deadly attacks, despite a major military offensive against its headquarters that analysts say has reduced its capacity.

The explosion ripped through the front entrance of a regional branch of the National Database and Registration Authority, which is responsible for issuing ID cards.

"It was a suicide bomber riding on a motorbike," district police chief Faisal Shahzad told AFP, putting the number of dead at 21.

"Apparently the target was the queue as there were around 400 people standing there," he said.

Ali Khan, a doctor at the government-run district headquarters hospital, confirmed the death toll and said 56 were injured, 20 of them critically.

"Most of the injured suffered shrapnel wounds," he said.

Television footage showed the collapsed front wall of the building and twisted metal debris strewn on the road in the town in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Eyewitness Nasir Khan, a 29-year-old labourer who suffered a shrapnel injury to his right leg, told AFP: "I was standing in the queue waiting for my turn as I had gone to renew my identity card when I heard someone shouting Allahu Akbar (God is greatest) and then I fell to the ground.

"The air was filled with smoke and dust and I could not see anything.

"When the dust settled and I stood up, it looked as though someone had butchered the people in the line. There was only blood and flesh in the row where people were previously standing."

Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the hardline Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), claimed responsibility.

"This office was attacked because it is an important institution of the infidel state of Pakistan," he said in an email, vowing further attacks.

Pakistan has been battling an Islamist insurgency since 2004 after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan caused fighters to flee across the border, where they began to foment unrest.

More than 27,000 civilians and security personnel have died in attacks since that time, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a monitoring site.

But overall levels of extremist-linked violence have dropped dramatically this year, with 2015 on course for the fewest deaths since 2007 -- the year the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group was formed.

Analysts have credited the fall to military operations against the Taliban in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber where they are headquartered, as well as in the country's largest city of Karachi.

Authorities have also taken steps to shut down insurgents' sources of funding and arrested thousands for inciting hatred.

The crackdown came in the aftermath of a Taliban school massacre in December 2014 in which more than 150 people, mainly schoolchildren, were killed.

Separately in Baluchistan in the southwest, a water tanker belonging to paramilitary forces hit a landmine in Mastung district Tuesday, killing one soldier and wounding two others, according to a military spokesman.

A third soldier was killed and a fourth injured when their vehicle struck an IED in the town of Turbat, he added.

Police and security forces launched a search in Turbat, hunting down and killing three separatist rebels.

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