A wave of violence from Islamic extremists against politicians in Pakistan intensified Monday with a suicide bombing at the home of an opposition lawmaker that left at least 18 dead.
The latest attack provided a further blow to the fragile hold of democracy in Pakistan, a key anti-terror ally that is struggling to cope with an Islamist insurgency and with an economic crisis that has pushed the country to the brink of bankruptcy.
Pakistan's security forces are fighting a fierce battle with Taliban militants in Bajur, a part of its federally administered tribal area that runs along the Afghan border, and in Swat, a valley in the northwest, after a short-lived policy of seeking peace deals with the extremists collapsed.
An attacker walked into an open meeting that lawmaker Rashid Akbar Nowani was holding in the courtyard of his home in the central town of Bhakkar, in Punjab province, and blew himself up amid a throng of about 200 people. Some reports put the death toll as high as 25, while 53 were hurt, some critically. Nowani got away with minor leg injuries.
“Everything has turned black here,” eyewitness Mohammad Ashraf told The Associated Press. “I am seeing body parts lying everywhere. There are many heads lying here. It is blood everywhere.”
Television pictures showed bodies roughly wrapped in cloth being hurriedly taken away on beds.