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16 killed in Quetta suicide attack

TERROR PLAY: Pakistani officials remove the body of a bomb blast victim to hospital in Quetta on Saturday. This is the seventh attack in three weeks. PHOTO: AFP  

Nirupama Subramanian

Nearly 30 wounded, some critically

This is the seventh attack in three weeksTaliban and pro-Taliban militant extremists are said to be the likely suspects

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is in shock as terror struck again in the form of a suicide bomber who blew himself up on Saturday in a crowded courtroom in the Balochistan capital Quetta, killing at least 16 people including himself.

The attack wounded 30 others, some of whom are in a critical condition.

The bomber blew himself up around 11 a.m. when the district court is usually buzzing with activity.

Among those killed were the judge hearing cases in the court, several lawyers and relatives of those whose cases were being heard.

Not counting several smaller incidents, this is the seventh attack in three weeks. While it is not clear who was behind it, speculation centres on the Taliban and pro-Taliban militant extremists on Pakistan's north-western borders with Afghanistan avenging Pakistan's military operations in the area.

Police are not yet ruling out any possibility, but Baloch nationalist insurgents, who regularly mount armed attacks on government targets in the province, have never carried out a suicide bombing.

Police confirmed that the courtroom attack was a suicide bombing on the basis of a severed head found at the spot.

Quetta is home to several thousand Afghan refugees. President Pervez Musharraf recently said the refugee camps had become recruiting grounds and safe havens for the Taliban fighting in Afghanistan. He asked the international community to help in sending the refugees back home.

In recent weeks, police and other security agencies have cracked down on the refugee camps in Quetta and suspected Taliban safe houses in and around the city.

Police announced last week that they had arrested 56 alleged pro-Taliban Afghans.

Heightened security

The string of recent bomb attacks has led to heightened security countrywide.

Police arrested three suspected bombers from Sukkur in Sindh after the Quetta bombing while three others, also suspected suicide bombers, were arrested in Karachi on Friday.

Al Qaeda links

Police said they had "confessed" to having links with the Al Qaeda. According to some reports, two persons were also arrested in Rawalpindi.

Most of the recent bombings were in the North-West Frontier Province, and appeared targeted at the minority Shia community as it participated in Moharram processions in the last week of January. Those attacks also killed policemen.

There were other attacks that were aimed specifically at security forces and government officials.