At least 44 killed in suicide attack at Pakistan rally
Attack on Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam gathering in northwestern Bajaur district also wounded nearly 200 others, officials say.
A suicide bomber has detonated explosives at a political rally in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 44 people and wounding nearly 200, according to officials.
The blast took place on Sunday at a gathering of the conservative Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) party on the outskirts of Khar in Pakistan’s northwestern Bajaur district, which borders Afghanistan.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Provincial police said in a statement that the suicide bomber set off his explosives vest close to the stage where several senior party leaders were sitting. It said initial investigations suggested the ISIL (ISIS) group could be behind the attack and officers were still investigating.
The armed group has been active in neighbouring Afghanistan after the fall of President Ashraf Ghani’s government. It opposes Afghanistan’s Taliban administration and has members known to cross the porous mountainous border and hide in the Peshawar area.
Feroz Jamal, the provincial information minister, told The Associated Press news agency that so far, 44 people had been “martyred” and nearly 200 wounded in the attack.
An emergency has been declared in the hospitals of Bajaur and adjoining areas where most of the wounded were taken, said district police officer Nazir Khan. The critically wounded were transported from Bajaur to hospitals in the provincial capital Peshawar by military helicopters.
“There was dust and smoke around and I was under some injured people from where I could hardly stand up, only to see chaos and some scattered limbs,” said Adam Khan, 45, who was knocked to the ground by the blast and hit by splinters in his leg and both hands.
Akhtar Hayat Gandapur, the inspector general of police for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said senior party leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman was not at the event when the explosion took place.
JUI-F is part of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance, a political coalition affiliated with the government in which Rehman plays a leading role.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the incident and extended his condolences to the families of the victims, including that of JUI-F leader Ziaullah Jan, who was confirmed killed in the attack, Radio Pakistan reported.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari “expressed deep sorrow over the loss of precious lives”, his Pakistan Peoples Party said in a statement.
It added that “the terrorists, their facilitators and planners need to be eliminated so that peace is established in the country”.
Interior Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb wrote on social media that the “religion of terrorists is only terrorism”.
“Ending terrorism is very important for the survival and integrity of Pakistan,” she wrote.
The bombing on Sunday was one of the four worst attacks in northwestern Pakistan since 2014 when 147 people, mostly schoolchildren, were killed in a Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar. In January, 74 people were killed in a bombing at a mosque in Peshawar. In February, more than 100 people, mostly policemen, died in a bombing at a mosque inside a high-security compound housing Peshawar police headquarters.
The armed group Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known as the Pakistan Taliban and linked to the Taliban in Afghanistan, distanced itself from Sunday’s attack, which its spokesman condemned.
The TTP has been waging a rebellion against the state of Pakistan for more than a decade, demanding the imposition of Islamic law, the release of key members arrested by the government and a reversal of the merger of Pakistan’s tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, also condemned the recent bombing. “Such crimes cannot be justified in any way,” he said in a message on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Nizam Salarzai, a journalist at the independent news outlet The Khorasan Diary, said the JUI-F has been under attack from the ISIL (ISIS) group in the past two years.
“They have a problem with the Afghan Taliban as well and anyone who approves of Taliban sentiments,” Salarzai told Al Jazeera.
If ISIL (ISIS) were to emerge as the group responsible for the attack, he added, “it may mean that the Pakistani state will have to fight on multiple fronts” to prevent similar attacks in the future.
Abdul Rasheed, the regional chief of the party, said the attack was an attempt to remove JUI-F from the field before parliamentary elections in November but he said such tactics would not work.
“Many of our fellows lost their 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,” Rasheed said.
s facing Imran Khan since he was removed as prime minister in April last year.