PARACHINAR: Twenty-five people died and 87 others suffered injuries when a bomb went off during peak business hours at the crowded vegetable market of Parachinar on Saturday morning.
In what appears to be a sign of growing cooperation among extremists, two banned groups came forward to claim the deadly assault with one describing the incident as a suicide attack.
Bidding for fruits and vegetables was under way when the powerful explosion occurred at around 8.50am, witnesses said.
• Terror revisits tribal region • Explosion claimed by two groups
Assistant Political Agent Shahid Ali Khan told reporters that the blast was caused by an improvised explosive device hidden in a vegetable box. He said it was a time-bomb containing 12kg of explosive material.
Vegetables and fruits are brought to the market from different areas of Kurram Agency and adjacent districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“I was talking to customers when a loud explosion occurred a few yards from my shop. I felt as if my eardrums ruptured,” recalled Mehtab Ali, who survived with minor injuries.
“After the blast, I saw 10 charred bodies lying on the spot and heard many wounded crying,” he said.
People rushed to the crime scene and started shifting the injured to the main hospital in Parachinar in cars and pick-ups. Announcements were made from a mosque for blood donation.
Personnel of the army and the Frontier Constabulary’s Quick Reaction Force cordoned off the area, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) said. The town was immediately closed and security at checkpoints was beefed up.
The critically injured people were shifted by two military helicopters to Peshawar and admitted to the Combined Military Hospital there. An official said that 13 of the injured were airlifted in two choppers and 11 others brought to the provincial capital by road.
Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa issued directives for quick shifting of the victims and provision of best medical care to them, the ISPR said. “Terrorists will fail in their attempt to regain lost relevance,” the ISPR quoted Gen Bajwa as saying.
A spokesman for the health directorate of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas said in a statement issued in Peshawar that 22 people were killed and 87 wounded. Of the injured, 41 were admitted to a hospital in Kurram Agency and 24 referred to hospitals in Peshawar.
Two children were among the dead.
Joint funeral prayers were offered in Parachinar and tribal elders and civil society groups announced three-day mourning. The town will remain closed on Sunday and Monday.
FC Inspector General Maj Gen Mazher Shaheen travelled to Parachinar and attended the funeral prayers.
Ali Mohammad, a member of the Anjuman-i-Hussainia, said that funeral prayers for 21 locals and two outsiders had been held and the bodies sent to the native areas of the deceased.
Two militant organisations separately claimed responsibility for the explosion.
The outlawed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi al-Alami, in a text message to journalists, claimed that it along with a splinter group of the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) led by Sheheryar Mehsud had carried out the attack.
In a separate statement, the spokesman for the banned TTP, Mohammad Khurasani, said: “A well-trained fighter, Saifullah alias Bilal, carried out a suicide attack in Parachinar.
“Saifullah attacked headquarters of enemies of Islam who are involved in extrajudicial killing of our suppressed associates. He avenged murders of Malik Ishaq, Noorul Amin, Asif Chhoto and many other associates, who were killed in fake police encounters,” he said.
The spokesman for the health directorate said that additional human resources, medicines and ambulances from nearby health facilities had been shifted to Parachinar to ensure adequate care to the injured.
Purpose-built emergency kits, obtained from the International Committee of Red Cross, had also been sent to Parachinar, he said.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Iqbal Zafar Jhagra visited the CMH in Peshawar and inquired about the health of the injured. He announced Rs300,000 compensation for the heirs of each deceased and Rs100,000 for each injured.
Terrorism revisits Parachinar, the headquarters of Kurram Agency near Afghan border, at regular intervals. Despite dozens of checkpoints and body search of commuters at the checkpoints, terrorists have succeeded in hitting soft targets in town every couple of years.
In December 2015, a blast in a market left 25 people dead and 62 others injured. In July 2013, an even deadlier explosion claimed 57 people and caused injuries to 190 others.
Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report
Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2017