Death toll from Bajaur blast rises to 54

F.P. Report

KHAR: The death toll from the suicide blast that ripped through a political convention of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam in Khar area of Bajaur yesterday has risen to 54, on Monday.

“The death toll from the deadly suicide attack that earlier killed 44 people has climbed to 54,” said CTD Additional IG Shaukat Abbas. He said that 83 people got injured in the attack, adding that condition of several wounded was critical.

He said that the JUI convention was started at 2pm while the explosion hit the assembly at 4:10pm. He said that the investigation agencies collected ball bearings from the crime scene, adding that 10-12kg of explosive material was used in the explosion.

Mr Abbas said that according to preliminary investigation, it was a suicide attack and the security agencies have identified the group behind this attack. We have reached near the culprits, he added.

He said that the investigation agencies have collected lots of evidence from the crime scene. He said we are waiting for forensic reports.

Meanwhile, an FIR of the Khar blast was registered at the CTD police station in Bajaur.

According to details, an unknown assailant has been named in the FIR, filed on the complaint of SHO Khar Niaz Muhammad.

Terrorism, murder, attempt to murder and other provisions have been added to the blast case.

The inquiry team investigating the blast visited the site of the incident.

In this regard, SP CTD Amjad Khan told that the investigation team collected evidence from the crime scene.

He said that the investigation team has also recorded the statements of the injured.

Amjad Khan further said that the geofencing process has also been completed at the crime scene.

Police comb blast site

 Police on Monday combed through the bloody wreckage of a suicide blast that killed at least 45 people at JUI’s gathering ahead of elections due later this year.

Around 400 members of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-F (JUI-F) — a key government coalition partner led by a firebrand cleric — were waiting for speeches to begin when the attacker detonated his vest near the front stage.

“I was confronted with a devastating sight — lifeless bodies scattered on the ground while people cried out for help,” Fazal Aman, who was near the tent when the bomb went off, told AFP.

The attack occurred in the town of Khar in the northwestern Bajaur district, just 45 kilometres from the Afghan border, in an area where militancy has been rising since the Taliban took control of Kabul in 2021.

Pakistan’s parliament is likely to be dissolved after it completes its term in the next two weeks, with national elections to be held by mid-November or earlier.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Pakistani Taliban — who operate in the area — have denied being behind it.

The local chapter of the jihadist Islamic State group, who have not yet commented on the attack, have in the past targeted JUI-F rallies and leaders.

– Election violence fears –

On Monday, blood-stained shoes and prayer caps littered the site, along with ball bearings and steel bolts from the suicide vest.

Pieces of human flesh could still be seen, blasted 30 metres (100 feet) from the stage where the bomber detonated his device.

Thousands of mourners attended the first funeral ceremonies, including for two young cousins aged 16 and 17.

“It was not easy for us to lift two coffins. This tragedy has shattered our family,” said Najib Ullah, the brother of one of the boys.

“Our women are profoundly shocked and devastated. When I see the mothers of the victims, I find myself losing my own courage.”

The blast has raised fears Pakistan could be in for a bloody election period following months of political chaos prompted by the ousting of Imran Khan as prime minister in April last year.

JUI-F’s leader, cleric Fazl-ur-Rehman, started political life as a firebrand Islamist hardliner, and while his party continues to advocate for socially conservative policies, he has in recent years forged alliances with secular rivals.

He has operated in the past as a facilitator for talks between the government and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a rival of the jihadist Islamic State group.

Last year, IS said it was behind attacks against religious scholars affiliated with JUI-F, which has a huge network of mosques and schools in the north and west of the country.

The jihadist group accuses the party of hypocrisy for being a religious party while supporting secular governments and the military.

While Rehman’s party never musters more than a dozen or so seats in parliament, they can be crucial in any coalition and his ability to mobilise tens of thousands of religious school students allows him to punch above his weight.

“It is important to consider why workers of a religious inclined political party could have been subjected to such bestial violence,” Dawn newspaper said in an editorial Monday.

“However ultra-conservative the JUI-F’s worldview, the party has chosen to contest power and operate within the parameters set by the Constitution of Pakistan.”

– Rise in attacks –

Pakistan has seen a sharp rise in militant attacks since the Afghan Taliban surged back to power in neighbouring Afghanistan in 2021.

In January, a suicide bomber linked to Pakistan’s Taliban blew himself up in a mosque inside a police compound in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing more than 80 officers.

The militant assaults have been focused in regions abutting Afghanistan, and Islamabad alleges some are being planned on Afghan soil — a charge Kabul denies.

Pakistan was once plagued by almost daily bombings, but a major military clearance operation launched in 2014 in northwestern areas that were formerly Pakistani Taliban strongholds largely restored order.

The seven remote former tribal districts that border Afghanistan, of which Bajaur is one, were later brought into the legal and administrative mainstream after the passage of legislation in 2018.

Analysts say militants in the former tribal areas have become emboldened since the return of the Afghan Taliban.

The blast coincides with a visit to the country by a senior delegation of Chinese officials, including Vice Premier He Lifeng, who arrived in the capital Sunday evening.