Pakistan explosion: At least 40 dead in blast at political rally in northwest province
A bomb went off at an event held by supporters of Maulana Fazlur Rehman, leader of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party. It is part of Pakistan's coalition government. At least 40 people have been killed in an explosion at a political rally in northwestern Pakistan. The blast happened on the outskirts of Khar, the capital of Bajur district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police said. More than 130 people were also injured when the suicide bombing went off at a rally organised by supporters of hardline cleric and political party leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman. Some of those seriously wounded were airlifted to a hospital in the provincial capital, Peshawar. Pictures from the scene also showed people being put into ambulances and the blast area being cordoned off, with emergencies declared at local hospitals.
Local party official among dead
One of the dead is the local leader of Mr Rehman's Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, Maulana Ziaullah. Mr Rehman himself was not in attendance at the rally, officials said. His party is part of Pakistan's coalition government and he also leads the Pakistan Democratic Movement, which united opposition parties against the then prime minister Imran Khan. The group formed in September 2020 in a bid to oust Mr Khan, succeeding via a no-confidence vote last year. Sunday afternoon's event came as parties prepare for a general election later this year.
Witnesses describe aftermath
Among the injured was 45-year-old Adam Khan, who was hit by splinters in his leg and hands. "There was dust and smoke all around," he said. Mohammad Wali said he was listening to a speaker address the crowd when the blast happened. "I was near the water dispenser to fetch a glass 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."
Area known for militant attacks
Pakistani journalist Zahir Shah Sherazi told Sky News the blast would give "a very negative message" to any parties holding campaign events in the coming weeks and months. "They are feeling threatened," he said of Pakistan's leaders, who will contest the election within 60 days of the country's national assembly dissolving on 13 August. Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif and President Arif Alvi have condemned the attack, with Mr Rehman calling on them to order an official inquiry. Nobody immediately claimed responsibility, but Islamic State operates just across the border in Afghanistan. Mr Rehman is considered pro-Taliban, the group which has governed Afghanistan since summer 2021. A Taliban spokesman offered condolences to relatives of the dead and prayed for a "speedy recovery of the injured". Bajur was a safe haven for Islamic militants until recent years, when Pakistan's military carried out operations to eliminate the threat. But there are still occasional attacks, targeting security forces and civilians alike.