A suicide bomber blew himself up in an SUV at an outdoor volleyball tournament in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 88 people in a village that opposes Taliban insurgents, police said.
The bomber struck as young men played volleyball in front of a crowd of spectators, including elderly residents and children, near the town of Lakki Marwat, officials said.
The bloodshed will put President Asif Ali Zardari's efforts to fight the Taliban under greater scrutiny, pressure he does not need at a time when corruption cases against his allies could be revived.
"It's just a disaster. I can see flesh, bodies and wounded all around," Fazl-e-Akbar, a witness, told Reuters by telephone. "It's dark. Vehicles' headlights are being used to search for victims."
Local police chief Ayub Khan said the bomber blew himself up in his sport utility vehicle in the middle of the field. A second vehicle was believed to have fled the scene.
"We have removed all bodies and wounded from the rubble," Khan said, adding that 88 people were killed.
Express 24/7, a Pakistani TV channel, said 65 people were wounded and more than 20 homes destroyed in the surrounding neighborhood.
The blast occurred near Pakistan's tribal belt, and was the latest bloodshed to rattle the country since the army launched a military offensive against Taliban fighters in the South Waziristan tribal region. The operation has scattered insurgents but provoked apparent reprisal attacks that have killed more than 500 people since October.
Khan said the town had earlier "set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area. This attack seems to be reaction to their expulsion."
Police: Elders' meeting was target
Khan said an anti-Taliban meeting of local tribal elders in a mosque close to where the tournament was being held was the real target of the attack, but the driver failed to reach it.
The bomber set off some 550 pounds of explosives loaded in the car at the field, which lies in a congested neighborhood, Khan said.
Police official Tajammal Shah said eight children, six paramilitary troops and two police were among the dead.
Omar Gull, 35, a paramilitary soldier who was wounded, said the attacker drove the vehicle recklessly into the crowd. "People were just trying to understand what's happening when the bomb went off," he said. "It was then chaos. It was smoke, dust and cries."
Another police official, Habib Khan, said some 300 people were on the field when the incident took place.
"We had security there. We had it for the meeting, and for the tournament," Ayub Khan told The Associated Press by phone.
Khan said a second vehicle fled the scene. "We believe it may be used to attack some other place," he told Reuters.
Suspected U.S. missile kills 3
Also Friday, a suspected U.S. missile struck a car carrying alleged militants in North Waziristan tribal region, killing three men, two intelligence officials said. It was the second such strike in less than a day.
The strikes are part of the U.S. campaign to eliminate high-value militant targets that use Pakistan as a safe haven to plan attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and on the West.
The one Friday happened near Mir Ali, a major town in the region, two intelligence officials said on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record. Shortly afterward, Taliban fighters arrived at the scene of the attack in the village of Ghundi and moved the bodies to an undisclosed location, the officials said.
U.S. officials rarely discuss the strikes, and Pakistan publicly condemns them, though it is widely believed to aid them secretly.
Karachi, the country's largest city, came to a virtual standstill Friday after religious and political leaders called for a general strike to protest a bombing that killed 44 people and subsequent riots.
The city's major markets, stores and business centers were closed, along with financial institutions that had already planned to shut because of New Year's Day. Public transportation was halted and gas stations were shut down.
Religious procession hit
Monday's bombing occurred in the midst of a procession of minority Shiite Muslims during the Islamic holy month of Muharram. Afterward, angry protesters went on a rampage, setting fires to about 2,000 stores that took three days to completely put out.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik, on a visit to Karachi, said investigators were still determining if the attack was a suicide bombing.
He also questioned the claim of a purported Taliban spokesman, Asmatullah Shaheen, that the militant group was behind the attack. Local news reports on Friday quoted a more prominent Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, as denying that the Pakistani Taliban's central leadership had approved the attack, though he did not rule out the possibility that Shaheen's group had carried it out without approval.
Elsewhere in the northwest, a roadside bomb exploded near a car in the Bajur tribal region, killing an anti-Taliban tribal elder and five of his family members, said Nasib Shah, a local government official.
Bajur was the focus of a 2008-09 army offensive but still suffers some militant violence. Tribal leaders who support the government against the Taliban are frequent targets of attacks.