KHAR, Pakistan — A powerful bomb ripped through a rally by supporters of a hard-line cleric and political leader in the country’s northwestern Bajur district that borders Afghanistan on Sunday, police and health officials said. At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.
Senior police officer Nazir Khan said the workers convention of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema Islam party was taking place on the outskirts of Khar, the capital of Bajur district, when the explosion took place.
AP video showed wounded people being carried from the scene in the chaotic aftermath of the explosion.
Adam Khan, 45, was hit by splinters in his leg and both hands. He said it was around 4 p.m. when the explosion knocked him to the ground.
“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,” he said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State group operates across the border in Afghanistan.
PHOTOS: A bomb at a political rally in northwest Pakistan kills at least 35 people and wounds more than 100
Initially, police said 10 people were killed but later more bodies arrived at a local hospital bringing the death toll to 40. Khan said some of the wounded were in critical condition and the death toll could rise.
The JUI workers convention was arranged in a hall close to a market but later tents were added because of the large number of supporters who turned out. The venue was being guarded by party volunteers dressed in camel-colored traditional garb called Shalwar Qameez and holding batons.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief Akhtar Hayat Gandapur said an initial investigation suggested a suicide bomber sneaked into the venue despite the security provided by party volunteers. He said explosives experts were combing the scene to preserve evidence.
District health officer Dr. Faisal Khan said 40 bodies and 150 wounded from the blast were at Khar’s main hospital. Some of the wounded were in critical condition and were being transferred to a facility in Peshawar and the adjoining district of Dir.
Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, President Arif Alvi and other leaders condemned the attack and asked officials to provide all possible assistance to the wounded and the bereaved families.
Maulana Ziaullah, the local chief of Rehman’s party, was among the dead. Senator Abdur Rasheed and former lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin were also on the stage but escaped unhurt. Party officials said Rehman was not at the rally.
Rasheed, the regional chief of the party, said the attack was an attempt to remove JUI from the field before parliament elections in November but he said such tactics will not work.
Rehman is considered to be a pro-Taliban cleric and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad. Meetings are being organized across the country to mobilize supporters for the coming elections.
“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,” he said.
Mohammad Wali 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 away 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 bodies of their loved ones.”
Bajur, once used to be a tribal region but now a district, has been a safe haven for Islamic militants until recent years when Pakistani military carried out massive operations to eliminate militancy from the tribal region. Militants still strike attacking security forces and civilians often.
Riaz Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan.
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