73 killed in violence in Pak tribal belt

Islamabad: At least 73 people, mostly militants, were killed on Thursday in separate incidents of violence, including a suicide attack outside a mosque and a fierce clash between security forces and terrorists, in the restive tribal belt of northwest Pakistan.

A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a mosque in the volatile Khyber tribal region this afternoon, killing 23 militants of the banned Lashkar-e-Islam group and injuring over 20 others, officials of the local political administration told the media.

The attacker detonated his explosive vest near the gate of the mosque as the Lashkar-e-Islam militants were leaving after Friday prayers. The incident occurred in Nakai area of Tirah Valley, located near the border with Afghanistan.

The area is controlled by the Lashkar-e-Islam, which is led by a warlord named Mangal Bagh Afridi. Another militant faction led by Tariq Afridi claimed responsibility for the attack.

Officials said they feared the death toll may rise as some of the injured were in serious condition.

The explosion, which damaged the mosque and nearby structures, occurred in the same area, where an overnight clash left 10 security personnel and 23 militants dead.

Dozens of militants attacked three check posts, triggering a clash that began at about 11 pm last night and continued till this morning.

Several militants were also injured in the clash. Separately, two members of a `lashkar` or pro-government militia were killed and two more injured when a vehicle was targeted with a remote controlled bomb in Tirah Valley, officials said.

In the Orakzai tribal region, 15 pro-Taliban militants were killed and 12 more injured when combat jets targeted rebel hideouts at two places, officials said.

Four hideouts were destroyed in the air strikes. The casualties could not be independently confirmed as journalists are barred from the tribal region.