Blast near mosque kills 10 in Pakistan's northwest

By Ali Afzaal

PARACHINAR, Pakistan, Feb 8 (Reuters) - A bomb blast killed 10 people and injured 18 in Pakistan on Friday, government officials said, in an area that the government said it had cleared of Taliban fighters.

"Most of the dead and injured were returning from Friday prayers at a mosque," said Mehmood Aslam, the top government official in the area.

The blast took place near a shop in Kalaya, the capital of the semi-autonomous Orakzai region in the ethnic Pashtun belt that runs through northwestern mountains along the Afghan border. No group claimed responsibility.

Security forces launched a major operation in Orakzai in March 2010 to push out militants fleeing a military offensive in the nearby South Waziristan region on the Afghan border. Orakzai was previously seen as a stronghold of Pakistani Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud.

The military says several hundred Taliban fighters have been killed in Orakzai since 2010 and the area is under control. But despite losses, the militants have carried out several bomb and gun attacks in the area.

Clearing out militant sanctuaries near the Afghan border is seen as crucial to U.S. efforts to bring stability to Afghanistan, particularly in the run-up to the end of the U.S.-led combat mission in 2014. (Additional reporting by Saud Mehsood; Writing by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Robert Birsel)