A huge blast that ‘scattered limbs’ has ripped through a political rally in northwestern Pakistan killing at least 40 people and leaving around 150 wounded.
Medics looked visibly shaken by the scene that saw scores of people engulfed in the explosion that struck the rally for a hardline cleric and political leader in a region which borders Afghanistan.
Senior Police Officer Nazir Khan said the bomb went off on the outskirts of Khar in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at around 4pm local time on Sunday.
He said the workers convention of Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s Jamiat Ulema Islam party was taking place on the outskirts of the city in the Bajur district, when the explosion took place.
Some of the seriously wounded were reportedly airlifted to hospitals in Peshawar. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but the Islamic State group operates just across the border in Afghanistan.
A health emergency at the district hospital has been declared by the authorities and images broadcast on local TV appear to show ambulances taking injured people to hospitals in the district.
Multiple victims have reportedly been waiting for treatment in health clinic hallways as services became overrun by the vast number of casualties.
Witness Adam Khan, 45, was hit by splinters in his leg and both hands. He said it was around 4pm when the the explosion knocked him to the ground.
He said: “There was all dust and smoke around and I was under the some injured people from where I hardly (could stand) up but only to see chaos and some scattered limbs.”
Another man injured in the explosion, Mohammad Wali, said he was listening to a speaker address the crowd when the huge explosion temporarily deafened him.
He said: “I was near the water dispenser to fetch a glass of water when the bomb exploded throwing me away to the ground.
“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.”
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 their leader Rehman was not at the rally.
Rehman is considered to be a pro-Taliban cleric and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad.
Senator Abdur Rasheed: “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.”
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.