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Bomb Blast in Pakistan Kills at Least 23

A suicide bomb blast in northwestern Pakistan has killed at least 23 people and wounded many others. No one has claimed responsibility, but police are blaming religious extremists for the deadly attack. The violence comes as security forces say they have killed up to 25 Taliban militants in fresh attacks in a tribal area bordering Afghanistan. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from Islamabad.

Police and witnesses say the bomb went off outside a hospital in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, where a group of Shi'ite Muslims had gathered to protest the murder of a local leader earlier in the day.

Most of the deaths from the bombing occurred instantly, and doctors said the condition of some of those wounded was critical. Speaking to VOA by telephone, regional police chief Naveed Malik gave details of the incident.

"A dead body was being carried to the hospital, and it was accompanied by family members; friends and police were also there. And then, there was a suicide bombing amidst them. We have recovered the legs of the suicide bomber, and the forensic teams are already searching for other evidences in the debris," said Malik.

Police chief Malik says that an investigation into the attack is under way, but he would not rule out the involvement of extremist Sunni militants, who are often blamed for killing members of the minority Shiite community in Pakistan.

Sectarian violence involving the two Muslim sects has claimed hundreds of lives in recent years. Militant and sectarian violence has plagued Pakistan's northwestern region.

Meanwhile, authorities say that security forces killed at least 20 Taliban militants in fighting in the Bajaur tribal region, which borders Afghanistan.

Fighting between government forces and militants in the region erupted early this month when Taliban fighters raided a security post. Officials say that up to 500 militants have been killed so far, and the fighting has forced tens-of-thousands of residents to flee Bajaur, which is a known stronghold of al-Qaida and Taliban linked militants.