Image: Police examine a truck after a bomb blast in Pakistan
Mohammad Sajjad  /  AP
Pakistani police officers examine a damaged truck after a bomb blast in the Shabqadar area of Charsada district near Peshawar, Pakistan on Monday.
updated 8/17/2009 6:46:24 AM ET 2009-08-17T10:46:24

A bomb exploded in a truck at a fuel station in northwestern Pakistan on Monday, killing seven people, while gunmen assassinated the leader of a feared Sunni sectarian group, triggering rioting in three southern cities.

Pakistan is battling al-Qaida and Taliban militants seeking to topple its secular-minded, pro-Western government. It has been bracing for possible revenge attacks following the reported death of Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud in a CIA missile strike Aug. 5 close to the northwestern border with Afghanistan.

Three children were among the dead in the truck bombing, which police said wounded at least 15. Television footage showed bloodstained clothes and sandals scattered around the station in Charsada district, about 12 miles outside the main northwestern city of Peshawar, a militant hub with roads that lead into Mehsud territory.

Timed explosive device
Police initially described the explosion as a suicide bombing, but senior police officer Sifwat Ghayur later told reporters a timed explosive device fashioned from a mortar was loaded onto the truck without the driver's knowledge.

The driver of the truck, which functioned as a taxi service between towns, had been handed the bomb in a package marked "medicine" by a man near the main bus terminal and he agreed to carry it to another village, Ghayur said.

The blast killed seven and injured 15, said police officer Zarman Shah in Peshawar Hospital. Six of the dead were believed to have been passengers.

‘Big bang’
"Suddenly, there was a big bang and I was thrown out to the ground," said Bahadur Khan, a 27-year-old laborer who was taking the truck home to his village after months of work near the capital, Islamabad. He was in stable condition with arm and leg injuries.

In the southern commercial capital of Karachi, supporters of banned Sunni sectarian group Sipah-e-Sahaba rioted after its leader, Ali Sher Haideri, was gunned down in his car Monday morning.

Haideri was killed along with a guard in Khairpur town in Sindh province, about 220 miles northeast of Karachi, officer Pir Mohammad Shah said.

Haideri, said to be in his 50s, was the spiritual leader of Sipah, which has been blamed for attacks against the country's minority Shiites, whom they regard as heretics. The U.S. State Department designated the group a terrorist organization in 2003.

Sunni youths rampage
Angered at his death, dozens of Sunni youths torched a bus and a van and threw stones at other vehicles, according to Abdul Majid Dasti, a senior police officer in Karachi. He said police lobbed tear gas canisters and dispersed the mob, but protesters later regrouped and set fire to a gas station.

Some rioters also fired shots, wounding two people on a nearby bridge. Police arrested four people, Dasti said.

Rioting and protests were also reported in Kandh Kot and Khairpur, two other cities in Sindh province, senior police officer Sanaullah Abbasi said, but no major injuries were reported.

Police said Haideri was killed over a personal dispute, but retaliatory violence can spring up between Sunnis and Shiites in the wake of such attacks.

Pakistan banned Sipah-e-Sahaba after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks as part of efforts to purge the country of extremism, but the group still operates more or less openly. Al-Qaida and the Taliban are also extremist Sunni groups and share Sipah's anti-Shiite stance.

More on: Pakistan

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