At least 44 killed, 200 injured in suicide bombing at Pakistan political gathering
- Officials said initial investigations suggested Islamic State could be behind the attack, and officers were still investigating
- The explosion coincides with a visit to the country by a senior delegation of Chinese officials, including Vice-Premier He Lifeng, who arrived in the capital on Sunday
Party officials said Rehman was not at the rally but organisers added tents because so many supporters showed up, and party volunteers with batons were helping to control the crowd.
Officials were announcing the arrival of Abdul Rasheed, a leader of the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, when the bomb went off in one of Pakistan’s bloodiest attacks in recent years.
The bombing came hours before the arrival of Chinese Vice-Premier He Lifeng in Islamabad, where he was expected to take part in an event to mark a decade of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a sprawling package under which Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan.
In recent months, China has helped Pakistan avoid a default on sovereign payments. However, some Chinese nationals have also been targeted by militants in northwestern Pakistan and elsewhere.
Provincial police said in a statement that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who detonated his explosives vest close to the stage where several senior leaders of the party were sitting.
It said initial investigations suggested Islamic State (IS) – which operates in Afghanistan and is an enemy of the Afghan Taliban – could be behind the attack, and officers were still investigating.
“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 at around 4pm local time and hit by splinters in his leg and both hands.
The Afghan Taliban’s seizure of power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021 emboldened the TTP. They unilaterally ended a ceasefire agreement with the Pakistani government in November, and have stepped up attacks across the country.
Feroz Jamal, the provincial information minister, told Associated Press that so far 44 people had been “martyred” and nearly 200 wounded in the bombing.
The bombing was one of the four worst attacks in the northwest 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.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi condemned the attack and asked officials to provide all possible help to the wounded and the bereaved families. Sharif later, in a phone call to Rehman, the head of the JUI, conveyed his condolences to him and assured him that those who orchestrated the attack would be punished.
Maulana Ziaullah, the local chief of Rehman’s party, was among the dead. JUI leaders Rasheed and former lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin were also on the stage but escaped unhurt.
Rasheed, the regional chief of the party, said the attack was an attempt to remove JUI from the field before parliamentary elections in November, but he said such tactics would not work. The bombing drew nationwide condemnation, with the ruling and opposition parties extending condolences to the families of those who died in the attack.
Rehman is considered to be a pro-Taliban cleric and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad. Meetings are being organised across the country to mobilise supporters for the coming elections.
“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.
Mohammad Wali, another attendant at the rally, said he was listening to a speaker address the crowd when the huge explosion temporarily deafened him.
“I was near the water dispenser to fetch a glass of water when the bomb exploded, throwing me to the ground,” he said. “We came to the meeting with enthusiasm but ended up at the hospital seeing crying, wounded people and sobbing relatives taking the bodies of their loved ones.”