75 killed in blast at Pakistan ball game

PESHAWAR, Pakistan — At least 75 civilians were killed and dozens more wounded Friday when a bomber detonated an explosive-laden vehicle at an outdoor volleyball game in northwest Pakistan, police said. The attack apparently was aimed at members of an anti-Taliban "peace committee" that has been challenging the influence of insurgents, officials and town elders said.

The bombing took place as a crowd of more than 200 people watched a match between local teams about 20 miles south of the town of Lakki Marwat in the North-West Frontier Province. The site is not far from South Waziristan, where Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban and al-Qaida fighters in recent months at the urging of U.S. leaders.

The bomber drove a pickup truck packed with 550 pounds of high-intensity explosives onto the field located in a densely populated neighborhood, police said.

The force of the blast rocked the area, destroying several nearby houses. Survivors struggled to free badly wounded victims and corpses from the rubble. Several critically wounded victims were transported in civilian cars and wagons to other hospitals in the region after the local government-run hospital was overwhelmed.

"Locals set up a militia and expelled the militants from this area," police chief Ayub Khan told reporters. "This attack seems to be reaction to their expulsion."

Mushtaq Marwat, an elder in Lakki Marwat, said members of the peace committee, many of whom were watching the match, had earlier received threats from militant groups operating in the volatile North Waziristan tribal region.

Friday's blast was part of a retaliatory campaign the Taliban have waged against the army and the public since the government launched an offensive on insurgent strongholds in South Waziristan in October, analysts said. The attack underscored the challenges ahead this year in the battle to stem insurgency along both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

One objective of the militants' campaign is to sow terror among the general population in hopes of increasing political pressure on President Asif Ali Zardari's unpopular civilian government to back down.