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Suicide Bomber Kills Nine In Northwest Pakistan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber has killed nine people in an attack on police in the northwestern Pakistani town of Mardan.

Pakistan has seen a surge in militant violence, mainly in the northwest, since last year with security forces attacking militants in sanctuaries near the Afghan border and the militants responding with suicide bomb attacks.

The violence has unnerved investors and compounded an economic crisis that looks set to force Pakistan to agree to International Monetary Fund assistance.

Mardan police chief Akhtar Ali Shah said he was about to leave his office when the attacker detonated his explosives outside.

"I was about to leave the office. As my escort went out, the blast took place," he told Reuters.

"The attacker blew himself up close to the escort when my guards tried to stop him entering the office premises. Had he entered the office, he would have caused more losses."

Mohtasim Billah, a senior doctor at Mardan's main government hospital, said four policemen and five civilians had been killed and about 30 people were wounded, five of them seriously.

A severed head, apparently that of the bomber, had been found, Shah said. Suicide bombers usually strap explosives to their bodies and their heads are cut off in the blast.

President Asif Ali Zardari denounced the attack and said terrorism and extremism would not be tolerated, the state APP news agency reported.

Mardan, 110 kilometers northwest of Islamabad, is the gateway to the Bajaur region on the Afghan border where security forces have been fighting militants since August.