PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility on Saturday for a suicide bomb attack that killed a senior politician in northwest Pakistan in one of the most high-profile assassinations of a political leader in months.
The politician, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, was a senior minister in the northwestern Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, where the Taliban have a strong presence, and he had a national reputation as one of the most vocal critics of the militants. Mr. Bilour was long on the target list of the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan, an umbrella organization of the Pakistani militant groups, and survived at least two previous assassination attacks.
At least eight other people were killed in the attack, and more than 15 others were wounded, senior government officials and doctors at a local hospital said.
Mr. Bilour's assassination sent shockwaves through the country's political circles; President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf expressed shock, with Mr. Ashraf terming Mr. Bilour's death "a national loss." The country's leaders announced a national day of mourning.
The attack, a grim reminder of the dangers militants pose to their opponents, comes just months ahead of national elections, expected to be held in the spring. Asad Munir, a security analyst and retired brigadier, said that such attacks would limit the ability of secular, liberal parties in the province to organize public rallies and mobilize their voters.
"Religious parties will take advantage of the situation," he said.
Mr. Bilour was coming out of a meeting of his Awami National Party, the secular party that governs the provincial capital of Peshawar, when the suicide bomber blew himself up, according to the secretary of home and tribal affairs, Azam Khan. Mr. Bilour died within hours, after being rushed to a hospital in critical condition.
Among the others killed in the attack were Mr. Bilour's secretary and a police officer, Mr. Khan said.
The provincial information minister, Mian Iftikhar Hussain, called for immediate action against militants in the nearby tribal region of North Waziristan, the safest haven for militants in Pakistan, saying it was time to take action against all militants.
"Let there be no difference between good Taliban and bad Taliban," he said.
American officials have long called for the Pakistani military to launch a military offensive in North Waziristan, but Pakistani officials have balked at the pressure, saying the army is overstretched and citing fears that an offensive would lead to retaliatory terrorist attacks in cities.
Also on Saturday, police officials in the southern province of Sindh said that a mob had tortured and killed a man accused of burning the Koran, the latest in a series of violent episodes in Pakistan stemming from allegations of blasphemy.
The killing occurred Friday in Seeta, a remote village in the Dadu district. The village's head cleric, Usman Memon, said charred remnants of the Koran had been found in the mosque that morning, and that the victim of the mob violence had been staying at the mosque alone. It is common for impoverished travelers and religious proselytizers to stay at mosques while traveling.
The man, whose name was not known, was handed over to the police and accused of violating Pakistan's blasphemy laws, Mr. Memon said. But as news of the episode spread later on Friday, an angry crowd gathered outside the police station and eventually forced its way in. The man was dragged out, tortured and killed, and his body was set on fire, according to the police.
Usman Ghani, the district's senior police superintendent, said that he had suspended the official in charge of the police station and filed administrative charges against seven other officers for negligence. He said that charges had been filed against 1,000 people believed to have participated in the mob action and that 150 people had been arrested. Little was known about the victim or what motive he was thought to have had for burning the Koran, if he did so.
Blasphemy is a capital crime in Pakistan, and it is a highly emotional issue for the deeply conservative country. Calls for repealing or revising the blasphemy laws have been met with strong resistance from religious leaders, and two prominent advocates of changing the laws were assassinated last year.
Ismail Khan reported from Peshawar, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan. Zia ur-Rehman contributed reporting from Karachi, Pakistan.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.