UN Halts Aid After Female Suicide Bomber Kills 46 in Pakistan

By Anwar Shaikh for Businessweek

A female suicide bomber carried out a Christmas Day attack in northwest Pakistan that killed 46 people, a local official said, as the UN food agency caught up in the blast closed centers that had fed 41,000 families.

The burqa-clad woman aged between 18 and 22 lobbed grenades and detonated an explosive vest near a World Food Programme distribution center after being stopped by security personnel, Mustaqeem Khan, a government official in the tribal region of Bajaur, said by phone today. At least 96 people were injured in what Dawn newspaper said was Pakistan’s first suicide bombing known to have been carried out by a woman.

The device was detonated at about 8:30 a.m. local time on Dec. 25 as officials were handing out food to victims of this year’s floods, said Gull Rehman, a spokesman for the government of the area. Khan said officials had collected body parts of the female attacker, who had attempted to join a line of men queuing for aid.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and said his government’s fight against militants will “continue till their complete elimination,” according to an e-mailed statement issued by the Information Ministry in the capital, Islamabad. Operations at four WFP centers in the region will likely restart this week once security improves, program spokesman Amjad Jamal said by phone from Islamabad.

The death toll eclipsed the 43 people killed Dec. 6 in a suicide bombing outside a government office in the northwest tribal region of Mohmand. Four days later, 25 people died in a similar attack in the town of Hangu.

U.S. President Barack Obama condemned what he called the “outrageous attack” in Bajaur. “Killing innocent civilians outside a World Food Program distribution point is an affront to the people of Pakistan, and to all humanity,” Obama said in a written statement. “The United States stands with the people of Pakistan in this difficult time, and will strongly support Pakistan’s efforts to ensure greater peace, security and justice for its people.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon condemned an “abhorrent act of terrorism aimed at innocent people.”

Pakistan’s government blames Taliban militants based in the country’s tribal region for terrorist attacks in the country. The army last year began offensives in the Taliban stronghold of South Waziristan, after a similar operation against guerrillas in the Swat Valley.

Militants have stepped up attacks as the government is struggling to rehabilitate 17 million people who lost homes and livelihoods during floods in August. The deluge threatened to cripple Pakistan’s economy with a surge in unemployment, an increase in inflation and damage to billions

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