At least 31 killed by suicide bomber in Quetta as Pakistan heads to the polls
The military has stationed over 370,000 personnel across Pakistan to ensure security for the election, bolstered by an additional 450,000 police
At least 31 people were killed and dozens more wounded in a suicide attack on a polling station in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta, officials said, as millions voted in a nationwide election on Wednesday. Islamic State subsequently claimed responsibility for the attack.
“[The bomber] was trying to enter the polling station. When police tried to stop him he blew himself up,” a local administration official in Quetta, Hashim Ghilzai, said.
Dr Wasim Baig, spokesman for the Sandeman Provincial Hospital in Quetta, said the death toll had risen to 31 with 70 injured, including eight in critical condition.
A witness who was waiting to cast his ballot, Abdul Haleem, said he saw a motorcycle drive into the crowd of voters just seconds before the explosion. Haleem’s uncle was killed in the explosion.
“There was a deafening bang followed by thick cloud of smoke and dust and so much crying from the wounded people,” he said.
“Suddenly there was a huge blast. I was flung on the ground and I thought that I was about to die,” madrassa teacher Hafiz Kareem said from his hospital bed.
Mehmood Khan, 18, said he was going to vote when the bomb went off, killing two of his friends.
Voters appeared undeterred, returning to polling booths after the dead and injured had been evacuated.
“Suddenly there was a huge blast and then bodies, blood, cries, dust was everywhere,” Khan said.
“Bombings keep on happening and life also goes on here, I am voting,” Abdul Razzaq, 50, said.
“What has happened, happened, it cannot stop people from voting,” added Ali Khan, 30.
Balochistan, Pakistan’s poorest and most restive province, suffers from Islamist and separatist insurgencies.
It suffered the brunt of a series of attacks that killed more than 180 people across Pakistan during the brief but acrimonious election campaign, including a devastating blast claimed by Islamic State which killed 153 people this month, and was Pakistan’s deadliest ever suicide attack.
The blast, which struck a crowd at a political rally, also killed local politician Siraj Raisani. He was one of three election candidates killed by militant attacks in Pakistan during the election campaign.
An earlier attack in Balochistan on Wednesday left one policeman dead and three wounded when a hand grenade was thrown at a polling station in the village of Koshk, in Khuzdar district.
The military has stationed over 370,000 personnel across Pakistan to ensure security for the election, bolstered by an additional 450,000 police.
The contest has largely become a two-way race between Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), and the incumbent Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) of ousted premier Nawaz Sharif, whose brother Shahbaz is leading its campaign.
The unprecedented participation of radical religious groups, including those banned for terror links but resurrected and renamed, has also raised fears that the space for moderate thought may shrink further in Pakistan. Attacks against minorities have increased in recent years.
One candidate, Jibran Nasir, an independent from Pakistan’s financial hub of Karachi, received death threats and even had a fatwa, or religious edict, issued against him after he refused to condemn Ahmadis, reviled by mainstream Muslims as heretics because they believe the messiah promised in Islam arrived over a century ago. Pakistan in 1974 declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.
“I am speaking for the millions of Pakistanis who are too afraid to confront religious bigotry,” Nasir said.
Additional reporting by Associated Press