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Pakistan Market Attack Kills At Least 12

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) -- A suicide bomber has killed an anti-Taliban village mayor and 11 other people in an attack near Pakistan's volatile city of Peshawar, officials said.

The bomber blew himself up on November 8 as Abdul Malik, mayor of Matni village, was visiting a market crowded with people and goats being sold for the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

Muslims slaughter goats, cows, buffaloes and camels on Eid al-Adha, which will be celebrated later this month.

"Twelve people have been killed, including a four-year-old child, and 36 people are wounded," Mohammad Mukhtar, a doctor at Peshawar's main government hospital, told Reuters. Matni is close to the lawless tribal lands where Islamist militants are active.

Islamist militants have unleashed a campaign of bomb and suicide attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks in retaliation for a major offensive launched by security forces in their main bastion, South Waziristan, on the Afghan border.

The army said on November 8 that 20 militants were killed in the latest fighting there, taking their total death toll to 478 since the offensive began.

Forty-four soldiers have been killed in the same period, according to military figures. There was no independent verification of casualties as reporters and other independent observers are not allowed into the war zone.

That assault in South Waziristan's rugged landscape of barren mountains and hidden ravines, now a centre of global Islamist militancy, is being closely watched by the United States and other powers embroiled in Afghanistan.

Taliban Backer Turned Enemy

To support their overall anti-militant drive, Pakistani authorities have encouraged Pashtun tribes to revive traditional militia to counter rising Islamist militancy.

Malik was once a Taliban supporter, but switched loyalty to the government in recent years and had survived several assassination attempts by the militants.

He was also head of a lashkar, or tribal militia, raised by the villagers against the militants.

"He was pro-government and was deadly against the Taliban," Peshawar police chief Liaquat Ali Khan said.

Militants have killed numerous pro-government tribal elders over the past few years, and have stepped up attacks recently.

In October, more than 100 people were killed in a car bombing in Peshawar in the deadliest attack in the country in two years.

More than 150 people were killed in attacks before the army began the assault in South Waziristan.

The army went on the offensive in the ethnic Pashtun region on Oct. 17 aiming to root out Pakistani Taliban militants behind a wave of violence in urban areas.

Soldiers have been advancing into the militant heartland from three directions and had entered their headquarters of Makeen on November 6.