The banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the Peshawar suicide blast that killed senior Awami National Party (ANP) leader Haroon Bilour and 19 others last night.
Bilour, whose father Bashir Bilour was also killed in a TTP-claimed suicide attack in 2012, was targeted on Tuesday night at an election gathering in the Yakatoot area. He was contesting the election from the PK-78 constituency.
The ANP leader's funeral — held at Wazir Bagh — was attended by the ANP's central leadership, including Ameer Haider Khan Hoti, hundreds of party workers and supporters. Leaders from other political parties, including QWP's Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao and PPP's Humayun Khan were also in attendance.
The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) spokesperson today announced that the election for PK-78 has been postponed due to the tragedy.
The blast took place when Bilour arrived at the site of a corner meeting. He suffered serious injuries and was shifted to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) where he succumbed to his wounds.
Rescue teams and law enforcement agencies rushed to site after the blast. Police and bomb disposal officials collected evidence from the blast site and initiated an investigation into the incident.
“According to our initial investigation, it was a suicide attack and Haroon Bilour... was the target,” said Additional Inspector General Shafqat Malik. He said that an initial probe suggested that a young boy blew himself up at the main entrance of the gathering when Bilour entered the venue.
Death toll rises overnight
The death toll was initially reported to be 13, but it rose to 20 overnight, according to Lady Reading Hospital Spokesperson Zulfiqar Ali Baba Khel.
Scores of people suffered injuries as a result of the blast. The LRH spokesperson told media that 48 injured were discharged from the hospital after initial treatment, while 15 people including a minor girl were still being treated. The spokesperson added that the girl and five others were in a critical condition.
Meanwhile, police arrested a suspect from the hospital. The suspect was among the wounded who were shifted to the hospital by rescuers, police sources said.
The body of Haroon Bilour was later shifted to Bilour House where ANP workers gathered in large numbers to pay respect to their deceased leader.
The funeral of Bilour will be offered at 5pm in Wazir Bagh area of Peshawar. Funeral prayers of nine blast victims were offered on Wednesday morning. They were laid to rest at Rehman Baba graveyard.
JIT to submit probe report in 1 week
Peshawar Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Qazi Jameel said that the provincial police chief has constituted a five-member Joint Investigation Team (JIT) to probe into the incident. The team has been tasked to submit its report within a week.
The deputy inspector general of the Counter-Terrorism Department is heading the JIT. A First Information Report has been filed in by the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD).
Law enforcement personnel have also launched a search operation in the city.
ANP announces peaceful mourning
ANP chief Asfandyar Wali, while speaking to reporters today, said that the party would observe three days of peaceful mourning, adding that the ANP would participate in the polls, come what may.
He expressed his anger and anguish over the situation and said that he has asked his party workers to remain calm, but that being backed into a corner may be a catalyst for unrest.
"It will not be a good sign for the country if party workers shun the policy of patience," he said.
The ANP leader explained that the party is facing a complex situation, where the enemy can identify them but they are unable to identify their enemies. "We cannot declare every man with a beard to be a member of the Taliban," he said.
Political parties under attack
In 2012, Haroon Bilour's father Bashir Ahmed Bilour was also killed when a Pakistani Taliban bomber blew himself up in a party meeting in Peshawar.
The following year in 2013, the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had claimed responsibility for an attack at an ANP rally in Peshawar, in which 15 people were killed. The TTP spokesperson at the time, Ehsanullah Ehsan, had told journalists that Haroon was the target, but "unfortunately Ghulam Ahmed Bilour got injured".
The ANP, which governed the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province from 2008 to 2013, has been a continual target of militant groups operating in the northwest. The militants killed hundreds of ANP leaders and supporters in attacks around the 2013 election.
Earlier this month, seven people including a candidate of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal were injured in an explosion during an election rally near Takhtikhel canal.
The Taliban have time and again threatened to target secular parties for what they call supporting the military action in tribal areas and the “war on terror”.
Although there has been no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the city of Peshawar has for decades been a victim of militancy due to its status as a frontline for the ongoing war against terrorism as well as its proximity to the restless tribal areas and the Pak-Afghan border.
Politicians face terror threat in run-up to polls
The National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta) on Monday had revealed the names of six personalities, including Imran Khan and Hafiz Saeed’s son, who could be targeted by terrorists during the ongoing election campaign.
“Six people include Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, Awami National Party leaders Asfandyar Wali and Ameer Haider Hoti, Qaumi Watan Party head Aftab Sherpao, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl leader Akram Khan Durrani and Hafiz Saeed’s son Talha Saeed. Moreover, there are threats to senior leadership of the Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz,” Nacta director Obaid Farooq said while briefing the Senate Standing Committee on Interior.
He said Nacta had forwarded 12 threat alerts to the federal interior and provincial home ministries as well as law enforcement agencies.