PARACHINAR: A bomb hidden in a bag ripped through a crowded bazaar in a mainly Shia area of this northwestern tribal region Sunday, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 30, officials said.
The death toll was expected to rise after the explosion at the Eidgah used clothes market in Parachinar city, the capital of Kurram Agency on the border with Afghanistan. “The death toll has reached 23 as many of the critically wounded succumbed to injuries as they were being shifted to helicopters to fly them to Peshawar,” Amjad Ali Khan, the political administrator of Kurram, said. Following the blast rescuers rushed to the scene of crime. Meanwhile, security forces cordoned off the area and launched a search operation.
Two senior police officials who requested anonymity confirmed the incident. “A bomb disposal squad has reached the spot and is trying to ascertain the nature of the blast,” one of them added. Local television footage showed hundreds of male marketgoers fleeing the area, which was strewn with clothing and debris, as police tried to cordon off the location and ambulances rushed to the site. The bodies and the injured were shifted to the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Parachinar, where eight out of the 11 dead were identified as Nazar Hussain, Hashmat Hussain, Muhib Hussain, Syed Shaheen Shah, Johar Hussain, Arif Hussain, Ashiq Hussain and Shaukat Ali.
Kurram is one of the seven semi-autonomous tribal districts which are governed according to local laws and customs. They are the frontline of Pakistan’s battle against an insurgency that began after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan forced Taliban and al Qaeda militants to flee across the border. Overall levels of violence have decreased this year following a nationwide military-led offensive Zarb-e-Azb against militants across the country, blocking their sources of movement, communication and funding. There has also been a crackdown on extremist groups that target religious minorities.
In July, Malik Ishaq, the leader of a sectarian group behind some of the worst atrocities in Pakistan, was killed in a shoot-out with police, along with 13 other extremists. Meanwhile, the sectarian outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Alami claimed responsibility for the attack. “We claim responsibility for the Eidgah Bazar, Parachinar bomb blast. It was a revenge of the crimes against Syrian Muslims by Iran and Bashar al Assad,” the group’s spokesperson, Ali Abu Sufiyan, said on Sunday. In a statement, the group warned of more attacks “if the people in Parachinar did not stop sending people to take part in Syrian war”.
Kurram is one of the most sensitive tribal areas as it borders three Afghan provinces and at one point was one of the key routes for militant movement across the border. It has witnessed scores of such attacks and kidnappings for ransom incidents in the past several years. The agency is adjacent to North Waziristan where Operation Zarb-e-Azb is in progress against the Tehreek-e-Taliban and other insurgent groups. The military had also launched an offensive against militants in 2011. Parachinar is the administrative headquarters of the agency near the Afghan border.
Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen Pakistan (MWM) patron-in-chief Raja Nasir Abbas Jaferi has announced three-day mourning over the incident. In a statement issued on Sunday, he directed the MWM workers to utilise all available resources for the treatment of those injured and ensure blood donations. He strongly condemned the attack and urged all political parties to join hands to foil nefarious designs of enemies of Pakistan. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the bomb blast and expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of life and property. The prime minister, who is in Turkmenistan on two-day visit, also commiserated with the bereaved families and directed the authorities concerned to provide special medical care to the injured.