MARDAN: Twenty-six people were killed and more than 50 others wounded on Tuesday after a suicide bomber struck a regional office of the National Database and Registration Authority in Mardan, 60 kilometres to the southwest of Peshawar.
Deputy Superintendent of Police Haroon Bacha told Dawn that the bomber, who was on a motorcycle, tried to force his way through the main gate of Nadra office, but detonated his suicide vest when a guard stopped him.
“At the time of the attack, the office was closed for lunch break. When the bomber tried to force his way inside, the guard stopped him, a scuffle followed and there was an explosion,” Mr Bacha said.
“Nothing remains of the suicide bomber. All that remains is the guard’s charred body. The brave man tried to stop the bomber and lost his life,” he said.
A senior police official in Mardan said the bomber appeared to be in his early or mid-twenties. His vest was laden with eight to 10 kg of explosives.
“The guard was an exceptionally brave man,” Regional Police Officer Saeed Wazir said. “He pinned down the bomber to the ground when he tried to get inside. Had the bomber managed to get inside, the casualty figures would have been much higher.”
It was not immediately clear why the bomber wanted to attack Nadra’s regional office other than inflicting civilian casualties.
“It was an unlikely target,” the police officer said.
“Why this particular place was chosen, we have no idea at all.”
Mr Wazir said there was no specific intelligence warning about a possible attack on the Nadra office. “There have been intelligence and threat alerts of possible attacks on security installations, but Nadra was not on the radar,” he told Dawn.
Nevertheless, police had issued two advisories to Nadra’s regional office in January and October, asking it to beef up its security and install surveillance cameras, the RPO added.
A report by a local police officer informed his high-ups that the organisation’s regional head had refused to take the advisory.
Dr Imran Sheikh, Deputy Commissioner of Mardan, confirmed the death of 26 people, including a 10-year-old girl, and said that 56 others, three women among them, were critically injured in the blast.
Gohar Ali Khan, who was injured in the blast, said he was standing in a queue and waiting for his turn to receive his renewed identity card when the explosion took place.
Sajjad Khan, an employee of Nadra’s regional office who has received multiple injuries, said he was busy dealing with visitors when the deafening explosion shook the place.
Police denied there was any presence of militants in the district, but the Nazim of Mardan district, Himayatullah Mayar, claimed that the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan’s Khyber and Mohmand groups had been active in different parts of the district.
TTP OFFSHOOT: Jamaatul Ahrar, an offshoot of the TTP, said Nadra was targeted for its important role in the war against terror.
In an email to media outlets, its spokesman Ehsanaullah Ehsan warned that all state institutions, directly or indirectly involved in the war, would be targeted.
Tuesday’s suicide bombing is the first in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa since a group of militants attacked a former US airbase in Badabher, on the outskirts of Peshawar, in September. Twenty-nine people were killed in the attack on the base, now run by the Pakistan Air Force.
There has been a 60 per cent decline in terrorist attacks in the country, according to security officials, since the launch of the Zarb-i-Azb operation in June last year. “They (terrorists) stand defeated, but incidents like Mardan shows that they are not finished yet,” a senior security official said. “We are over the hump, but it’s a long haul. It will take time, resources and numerous sacrifices to eliminate them.”
He said there had been intelligence about a possible terrorist attack, but there was no specific alert against Nadra.
Published in Dawn, December 30th, 2015