Bomb damages Buddhist relic in Pakistan

Peshawar, Pakistan - A bomb detonated by pro-Taliban militants Tuesday damaged a rock engraved with images of Buddha in northwest Pakistan that attracts thousands of tourists a year, police said.

The incident recalled the internationally condemned destruction of the huge Bamiyan Buddhas in neighbouring Afghanistan by the hardline Taliban regime in 2001.

Shrapnel from the blast in the town of Malam Jabba in Pakistan's Swat district hit the rock but did not damage the Buddhist images, local police chief Mohammad Iqbal told AFP.

The region -- known for its Buddhist heritage and archaeological sites -- attracts tourists, mainly from Buddhist countries, despite security fears.

It is also a stronghold of a radical group linked to Afghanistan's Taliban militia that carried out several attacks on security forces earlier this year following the bloody siege of the pro-Taliban Red Mosque in Islamabad.

"It appears to be the work of local militants who condemn these relics as being un-Islamic," Iqbal said. "It looks more like a symbolic attack to embarrass the government of Pakistan internationally."

The Taliban incurred the wrath of the world community when they rocketed the ancient Buddha statues in the central Afghan valley of Bamiyan months before US-led forces toppled their regime in late 2001.