Pakistan held funerals on Monday for victims of a massive suicide bombing that targeted a rally of a pro-Taliban cleric the previous day as the government vowed to hunt down those behind the attack.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for Sunday’s bombing, which killed at least 43 people and wounded nearly 100. Police said their initial investigation suggests the Islamic State group’s regional affiliate could be behind the attack.
The victims were all from the Jamiat Ulema Islam party, which is headed by hard-line cleric and politician Fazlur Rehman. He did not attend the rally, held under a large tent close to a market in Bajur, a district in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that borders Afghanistan.
The IS regional affiliate — known as the Islamic State in Khorasan Province — is based in neighboring Afghanistan’s Nangarhar province and is a rival of the Afghan Taliban.
Bajur was a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban — a close ally of Afghanistan’s Taliban government — before several Pakistani army offensives that ended in 2016 claimed to have driven them out of the area.
The cleric’s supporters had gathered in Bajut on Sunday as part of their party’s preparations for the next parliamentary elections, expected sometime in October or November after the current parliament’s five-year term ends.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif is expected to dissolve the parliament in August to pave the way for the vote. Rehman’s party is part of Sharif’s coalition government, which came to power in April 2022 by ousting former Prime Minister Imran Khan through a no-confidence vote in the legislature.
Khan later on Sunday also condemned the bombing, as condolences continued to pour in from across the country.
Dozens of people who received minor injuries were discharged from hospital while the critically wounded were taken to the city of Peshawar by army helicopters.
Local police chief Akhtar Hayat Gandapur told NBC News on Monday that they have confirmed 43 deaths, with around 90 people injured and under treatment in different hospitals.
Jalil Jan, a spokesperson for the Jamiat Ulema Islam political party, said earlier that the death toll was 55.
Sharif called Rehman to express his condolences and assure the cleric that those who orchestrated the attack would be punished. The bombing has also drawn nationwide condemnation, with ruling and opposition parties offering condolences to the families of the victims. The U.S. and Russian embassies in Islamabad also condemned the attack.