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Suicide attack kills 15 in Pakistani Waziristan

Apparent target was cleric and former lawmaker

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A suicide bomber blew himself up at a Pakistani mosque Monday, killing at least 15 people including a prominent local cleric in the lawless district of South Waziristan, officials said.

It was the first significant suicide attack in Pakistan since August 4 and comes with the country battling to cope with the fallout of devastating floods that have affected up to a fifth of the country and hit 20 million people.

The apparent target was cleric Noor Mohammed, a member of radical Sunni Muslim party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, which has been linked to the Taliban, and a former lawmaker.

"Apparently it was a suicide attack and Maulana Noor Mohammad was the target," said an intelligence official in Wana, referring to a pro-government cleric.

He was greeting members of the congregation in the town of Wana after prayers when the bomber struck, officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The mosque was badly damaged in the blast, where local residents were busy trying to recover people from the rubble amid fears that the death toll could rise further.

Syed Noor, a nephew of the cleric, confirmed that his uncle had been killed.

Locals described the cleric as an influential figure who had several times acted as a negotiator between the Taliban and the Pakistani government, but was opposed to the presence of Uzbek militants, providing support to dislodge them.

Apparently it was a suicide attack and Maulana Noor Mohammad was the target

Paksitani intelligence official

tThe most dangerous place on Earth

Wana is the main town in South Waziristan, one of Pakistan's seven districts in the lawless tribal belt on the Afghan border. Pakistan last year waged a major operation to flush out the Pakistani Taliban from South Waziristan.

Washington has branded the rugged tribal area -- part of which has now been hit by Pakistan's catastrophic flooding -- a global headquarters of al-Qaeda and the most dangerous place on Earth.

Bombs and attacks blamed on Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked militants have hit soldiers, government officials and civilians across nuclear-armed Pakistan since government troops besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Such attacks have killed more than 3,574 people in the past three years, concentrated largely in the northwest and border areas with Afghanistan, where 141,000 U.S. and NATO troops have been fighting the Taliban for nine years.

Waziristan came under renewed scrutiny when Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American charged over an attempted bombing in New York on May 1, allegedly told US interrogators he went to the region for terrorist training.

U.S. forces are waging a covert drone war against Taliban and al-Qaeda-linked commanders in the tribal belt, where the latest such strike killed four militants in North Waziristan on Saturday.

Elsewhere in the tribal belt, a landmine blast killed seven people as Pakistani tribal elders met in the Khumas village of Kurram district on Monday, administrator Syed Musaddiq Shah told AFP.

It was not immediately clear whether the blast was an intended attack or whether the ordinance had exploded accidentally.