Blast near mosque kills 16 in Pakistan's northwest

PARACHINAR, Pakistan Fri Feb 8, 2013 8:04pm IST

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PARACHINAR, Pakistan (Reuters) - A bomb blast killed 16 people and wounded 27 in Pakistan on Friday, government officials said, in an area that authorities said they had cleared of Taliban fighters.

"Most of the dead and injured were returning from Friday prayers at a mosque," said Mehmood Aslam, a government official in the area.

A Pakistani journalist and a paramilitary fighter were among the dead, said Fazal Qader, the regional deputy official.

The blast took place near a shop in Kalaya, the capital of the semi-autonomous Orakzai region in the ethnic Pashtun belt that runs through northwestern mountains along the Afghan border. No group claimed responsibility.

Following the attack, nine militants were killed after jets bombed their hideout, a local official and a military official said.

Security forces launched a major operation in Orakzai in March 2010 to push out insurgents fleeing a military offensive in the nearby South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. Orakzai was previously seen as a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

The military says several hundred Taliban fighters have been killed in Orakzai since 2010 and the area is under control. But despite losses, the militants have since carried out several bomb and gun attacks in the area.

Clearing out militant sanctuaries near the Afghan border is seen as crucial to U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, particularly in the run-up to the end of the U.S.-led combat mission in 2014. (Additional reporting by Saud Mehsood; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Robert Birsel and Oliver Holmes)

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