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Pakistani police detain 36 people over courtroom bombing

PAKISTAN: Police in southwestern Pakistan have detained 36 people, mostly Afghan refugees, for questioning about a suicide bombing inside a courtroom that killed a judge and 15 other people, an official said Sunday.

The suicide bomber struck a crowded courtroom in the city of Quetta on Saturday in the deadliest of a series of attacks in recent weeks.

There is suspicion in Pakistan that pro-Taliban militants are targeting sensitive sites to undermine the country's support of the United States, and an official in the region where Saturday's attack took place hinted at Afghan involvement.

The explosion wounded 24 people and left bloodied clothes and body parts scattered next to wrecked furniture and shattered glass in the Quetta District Courts. It forced police - already on alert - to further tighten security nationwide.

The chief of police in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, said Sunday that 36 people, including at least 22 Afghan refugees living in the city, have been detained in a probe into the bombing.

"We will investigate them to determine whether anyone among them has any link with the incident," said police chief Raho Khan Brohi.

The men were picked up in separate raids in various parts of Quetta late Saturday but no one was a suspect or formally arrested in the case, Brohi said.

"Afghans have been involved in previous such attacks here. I cannot rule out their involvement," said Jam Mohammed Yousaf, the top elected official in Baluchistan, on Saturday. "We don't have any evidence to prove it," he added.

Relations between the neighbouring countries have soured over Afghan allegations that Pakistan is supporting Taliban militants who have escalated their campaign of violence in the neighboring country over the past year. Pakistan denies helping the militants but acknowledges that some operate from its soil.

Increasingly, it appears Pakistan itself has become a battleground.

There have been about 10 bombings in the past month, mostly in the northwest, but the capital Islamabad has also been targeted in suicide attacks at its international airport and the Marriott Hotel.

Saturday's blast in Quetta, a city where Taliban activists and leaders are alleged to hide, was by far the deadliest.

Earlier Pakistani police said they had arrested three members of a banned Islamic group, thought to be behind several attacks against minority Shiite Muslims in the country.

The arrests were made in the town of Sukhar in southern Sindh province, area police chief Mazhar Nawaz Sheikh told reporters at a press briefing.

He said the suspects were operatives of the banned Sunni militant Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group and were planning attacks on Shiites in the first week of next month in southwestern Baluchistan province.

Meanwhile Pakistan has renewed a call for neighbouring Afghanistan to open dialogue with Taliban insurgents to stem the rise in violence in the war-torn country.

Ali Muhammad Jan Aurakzai, a former general who is now governor of the North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan, warned the Taliban-led insurgency was already turning into a "liberation war" in Afghanistan.

It is "developing into some kind of nationalist movement, a resistance movement, some sort of liberation war against the coalition forces," he told journalists in the provincial capital of Peshawar.

Aurakzai was speaking ahead of a rare media trip to North Waziristan, an area used by Taliban militants close to the Afghanistan border.

A group of journalists flew Saturday to Miranshah, the main city in North Waziristan where thousands of troops are deployed to stop Taliban cross-border movement, for a briefing by senior army officials.

In September Aurakzai engineered a peace deal with militants in North Waziristan, evoking suspicions from Kabul and the commanders of international forces battling the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has strongly defended the agreement, saying it has helped curtail infiltration across the porous frontier into Afghanistan.

Afghanistan has openly accused Pakistan of fostering an insurgency by the Islamist Taliban, while Islamabad's western allies have shown increasing concern over its pacts with the militants. The conflict killed 4,000 people last year.

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