At least 44 killed in Pakistan suicide bombing during political rally

Ambulance lights

(Photo by YANGHONG YU on Unsplash)

At least 44 people have been killed and nearly 200 injured after a suicide bomb blast at a political rally in Pakistan.

The large explosion ripped through a rally being held by supporters of a hardline cleric and political leader in the Bajaur district of the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, in a region that borders Afghanistan.

The gathering on Sunday was being held by supporters of the conservative Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) party, which is known for its links with hardline political Islam.

A rescue operation is ongoing and an emergency has been declared in Bajaur’s hospitals, and adjoining areas where most of the injured were taken, some by military helicopter.

Akhtar Hayat, the provincial police chief, later said the blast was caused by a suicide bomb. No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack but Isis operates across the border in Afghanistan.

Images on local TV showed ambulances ferrying injured people to hospitals. Some were forced to wait in the hallways of health clinics as local services struggled to deal with the high number of casualties, the BBC reported.

Adam Khan, 45, was among the injured in Sunday’s attack. He was hit by splinters in his leg and both hands when he was knocked to the ground by the explosion at around 4pm.

He said: “There was all dust and smoke around and I was under some injured people from where I hardly [could stand] up but only to see chaos and some scattered limbs.”

Mohammad Wali said he was listening to a speaker address the crowd when the huge explosion temporarily deafened him. He added: “I was near the water dispenser to fetch a glass of water when the bomb exploded throwing me away to the ground.

“We came to the meeting with enthusiasm but ended up at the hospital seeing crying wounded people and sobbing relatives taking bodies of their loved ones.”

Police said the workers’ convention of pro-Taliban cleric Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) party was taking place on the outskirts of Khar when the explosion took place.

An announcement was being made for the arrival of the party’s senior leader, Abdul Rasheed, when the bomb exploded. Maulana Ziaullah, the local party chief, was confirmed among the dead. Mr Rasheed and former lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin were on the stage at the time of the blast but escaped unhurt.

Party officials said Mr Rehman, whose party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad, was not at the rally.

Mr Rasheed claimed the attack was an attempt to remove JUI from the field before parliamentary elections in November, but he said such tactics would not work and demanded a full investigation.

He said: “Many of our fellows lost lives and many more wounded in this incident. I will ask the federal and provincial administrations to fully investigate this incident and provide due compensation and medical facilities to the affected ones.”

Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi and other leaders have condemned the attack and asked officials to provide all possible assistance to the wounded and the bereaved families.

Bajur was once a haven for Islamic militants and is a former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). But the group was forced from the area by the Pakistani military in recent years.

The country has seen a resurgence of attacks by Islamist militants since last year when a ceasefire between the TTP and Islamabad broke down.

The TTP has condemned the bombing, saying it was aimed at pitching Islamists against each other. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesperson for the Afghan Taliban, wrote on Twitter: “Such crimes cannot be justified in any way.”

(Source: Independent)