(AP) – A powerful bomb ripped through a political rally by supporters of a hardline cleric and political leader today in Pakistan’s northwestern Bajur district, police and health officials said. At least 40 people were killed and nearly 200 wounded, including children, in one of the worst attacks in recent years.
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 bomb went off. AP video showed wounded people being carried from the scene in the chaotic aftermath.
Bajur used to be a haven for Islamic militants. It is the former stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, a militant group that is a close ally of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. The TTP was in recent years, evicted from the area through operations by the Pakistani military.
The bombing came hours before the arrival of Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng in Islamabad, where he was to participate in an event to mark a decade of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, or CPEC, a sprawling package under which Beijing has invested billions of dollars in Pakistan.
In recent months, China has helped Pakistan avoid a default on sovereign payments. However, some Chinese nationals have also been targeted by militants in northwestern Pakistan and elsewhere.
In a statement sent to the Associated Press, the TTP condemned the bombing, saying it was aimed at pitching Islamists against each other. Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the Afghan Taliban, also condemned the bombing. “Such crimes cannot be justified in any way,” he said in a message on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter.
Though a separate group, the TTP remains a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan in mid-August 2021. The takeover emboldened the TTP. They unilaterally ended a cease-fire agreement with the Pakistani government last November and have since stepped up attacks across the country.
One of the victims, 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 dust and smoke around, and I was under some injured people from where I could hardly stand up, only to see chaos and scattered limbs,” he said.
Initially, police said 10 people were killed, but later more bodies arrived at a local hospital, bringing the death toll to 40. Feroz Jamal, the provincial information minister, told the Associated Press that 40 people had been “martyred” and nearly 200 wounded in the bombing.