It is now feared that up to 70 people may have been killed by yesterday’s suicide bomb at a mosque in Pakistan’s Khyber region about 20 miles from the Afghan border. The blast went off just as Friday prayers were beginning and completely destroyed the building. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, and some believe it may be part of a power struggle between rival tribal militias. Similar enmities may have been behind another suicide bombing on Thursday that killed at least ten people in a restaurant in South Waziristan.
Last year Pakistan overtook Iraq as the world’s worst country for suicide bombings. In the first eight months of 2008, more than 471 people were killed in 28 suicide attacks, compared with 463 people in Iraq and 436 in Afghanistan.
We tend to think of suicide bombings as a new tactic, and certainly the US-British attack on Iraq gave them an enormous boost, but actually they go back at least as far as the 17th century when Dutch soldiers trying to conquer Taiwan would use gunpowder to blow up themselves and the enemy.
If you count fuel-filled aeroplanes as bombs, then the deadliest ever suicide attack remains 9/11, which killed nearly 3,000 people in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. Of attacks using more conventional explosives, the deadliest happened on August 14, 2007 when four suicide bombers killed up to 800 members of the obscure pre-Islamic Yazidi sect in Iraq.