Islamabad: Eighty-four people were killed on Saturday in a suicide bombing and government helicopter attacks in the tribal region along Pakistan`s border with Afghanistan, officials said.
A female suicide bomber targeted a crowd collecting food at a distribution centre run by the UN`s World Food Programme, killing 44 people.
Seventy others were injured in the attack at Khar, the main town in the Bajaur tribal district, where government forces are fighting Taliban and Al Qaeda militants.
Local government official Imtiaz Khan said about 300 people had gathered to collect food when the bomber struck. "According to initial reports, the bomber was a woman wearing a burqa."
"Seven to eight people are in critical condition," Afif Khan, a medical officer at the emergency department in Khar`s main hospital said over the phone.
A witness, Wasi Ullah, said a burqa-clad female aged 22 or 23 first hurled hand grenades when stopped by security guards at the gate, where she detonated her explosives.
"Her body parts including hands and feet were seen lying near the gate," he said.
It was only the third known suicide attack in Pakistan by a woman.
Thousands of families displaced by fighting between the military and Taliban fighters rely heavily on food provided by the government and the UN World Food Programme.
Saturday`s bombing targeted the Salarzai tribe, which has joined forces with the government against the Taliban and raised a tribal militia to drive them out of their area. Dozens of people have been killed in the clashes between the Taliban and the Salarzai tribe.
The Taliban took responsibility for the attack in a message sent to various news organisations.
"This tribe was supporting the government and that`s why we punished it. By the grace of god, we will carry out more attacks in the future against those who assist the government," Taliban spokesman, Azam Tariq, said by phone from an undisclosed location.
Bajaur, one of the insurgents` key launching pads for cross-border raids in Afghanistan, was the scene of a 2006 drone attack at a religious school in Damadola that killed over 80 people.
Officials said Ayman al-Zawahiri, one of Al Qaeda`s top leaders, was the main target of that strike but he had left the place shortly before the attack.
The military announced last year that the area had been cleared of militants, but it is believed that the insurgents are hiding in the mountainous border regions, and target the army and people in Bajaur and neighbouring Mohmand district.
The bombing came a day after 150 Taliban fighters carried out coordinated attacks on five security posts in Mohmand in which 11 soldiers and 24 militants died, officials said.
In retaliation, military helicopters pounded insurgent positions Saturday, killing at least 40 suspected militants.
"So far 40 militants have been killed by our forces," said Amjad Ali, the senior civilian administrator of the district. "The operation is still going on."
The army said it had killed 64 insurgents in the last two days.