KHAR, Nov 6: A suicide bomber blew himself up at a jirga in the Bajaur tribal region on Thursday, killing 16 people and injuring 31 others.

According to eyewitnesses, the powerful blast took place in Batmali area, northeast of Khar, when elders of the Salarzai tribe were discussing formation of a lashkar to force Taliban militants out of the area. Over 150 were attending the jirga.

Malik Akbar Khan, an elder of the Salarzai tribe, told Dawn that the tribal leaders first held a meting with senior government officials in Khar to discuss measures to coordinate efforts against the militants. After the meeting, the elders held the jirga to chalk out a plan to combat militancy in the region.

The elders were discussing the plan when the unidentified man blew himself up.

He said that despite security arrangements, the bomber had managed to enter the ground where the jirga was being held.

A caller identifying himself as commander Abdur Rehman of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan claimed responsibility for the attack.

Assistant political agent Mohammad Iqbal Khattak said it was a suicide attack and the jirga was the target.

Lashkar leaders, including Malik Fazl Karim, Malik Wazir Khan, Shamsur Rehman, Derwaish Khan, Zakir Khan, Gul Javed, Khan Badshah and Mohammad Khan, were among the dead.

The injured were taken to the agency headquarters hospital in Khar and some of them were said to be in critical condition.

The political administration has announced Rs50,000 for each of the injured.

Meanwhile, planes and helicopter gunships bombed suspected militant positions in Mamond and Nawagai subdivisions.

Officials claimed that 17 militants had been killed and 10 others injured. With new casualties, the death toll in three days fighting has increased to 40.

Sources said that helicopters attacked the house of Wali Rehman, head of the militant Jashul Islami organisation, in Erab area of Mamond on Wednesday, killing his wife, two daughters and a son.