PESHAWAR, Pakistan - A suicide attacker blew himself up yesterday at a funeral for a slain police officer in Pakistan's volatile Swat Valley, killing at least 35 people, including the officer's 16-year-old son.
It was the deadliest attack in the country since the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. And it was the bloodiest in the Swat Valley since militant followers of a pro-Taliban cleric grabbed control of large parts of the scenic corner of Pakistan's restive northwest.
President Pervez Musharraf sent in thousands of troops in November to reassert government control over the valley. The army says it has retaken most of Swat, but attacks persist and the leader of the uprising, Mullah Fazlullah, remains at large.
About 800 people, including police officials and civilians, were at a government high school for the funeral of senior police officer Javed Iqbal.
Iqbal, the deputy police chief of the Lakki Marwat district, and his driver were killed in a roadside bomb yesterday morning. By the time his body was brought to his hometown of Mingora for the funeral, night had fallen.
"Because it was dark, the suicide bomber was able to mingle among the people easily," said Shahbuddin, an assistant inspector of police who was at the funeral.
The explosion occurred just as the pallbearers lifted the coffin to carry it toward the grave, said Shahbuddin, who uses only one name. One of the pallbearers was Iqbal's 16-year-old son, Ghazan, who was killed.
"As the coffin was lifted I moved toward the gate but suddenly a big explosion took place, which dashed me against the gate . . . Everybody was crying for help," said Shahbuddin, who was slightly injured.
Dr. Fazal Wahab of Saidu Sharif Hospital said 35 bodies had been counted and 62 people were wounded. "We have treated a large number of injured, some in very critical condition," he said.
Taliban militants have stepped up attacks and taken control of tracts of northwestern Pakistan bordering Afghanistan in the past several years. Last week, a roadside bomb killed 12 people at a wedding party in Swat, once a popular tourist retreat.