Orakzai bazaar blast leaves 34 dead

24 Nov 2018

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Kohat: Relatives of a victim assist him during the treatment at a hospital on Friday.—Abdul Majeed Goraya/White Star
Kohat: Relatives of a victim assist him during the treatment at a hospital on Friday.—Abdul Majeed Goraya/White Star

KALAYA: At least 34 people, including 24 members of the Shia community, were killed and 36 others wounded when a powerful bomb ripped through the main Kalaya bazaar of Orakzai tribal district on Friday morning, officials and hospital sources said.

While no militant group immediately claimed responsibility of the attack, there were conflicting reports about the nature of the explosion in the Shia-dominated area. Some officials said a suicide bomber riding an explosive-laden motorbike hit the crowd, while others said the motorbike parked near a seminary was exploded with a detonator.

Initial death toll was 31, according to the Orakzai deputy commissioner’s office. It said there were three children among the victims. Witnesses and rescue workers said many of them died while being shifted to hospitals in the neighbouring districts of Kohat and Hangu. It was reported that of the 34 deceased, 24 were Shia, seven were Sunni and three were Sikh.

Conflicting reports emerge about the nature of explosion in a Shia-dominated area

Locals said that the explosion occurred around 10am when the market was crowded with customers due to Friday’s weekly bazaar.

Hussain Badshah, who was transporting groundnuts to the market, said his vehicle was entering the market when the blast took place. “A huge plume of thick black smoke filled the air after the explosion,” he said, adding that it damaged around 10 vehicles and several shops.

He said area people rushed to the blast site for rescue work as the road was strewn with human remains.

An official in Kalaya told Dawn that D-type hospital in the town did not have staff and equipment to cope with the situation and all the wounded people were referred to nearby Kohat district. “The local hospital does not have the capacity and facilities to provide emergency cover,” he said. Wounded persons were rushed to hospitals in Kohat and Hangu in private transport. Deputy Medical Superintendent Dr Fazal Rehman said the main hospital in Kohat received 29 wounded persons and one deceased. He said four critically injured were referred to hospitals in Peshawar.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government and the departments dealing with the seven merged tribal districts were unable to issue a press note about the incident, as provincial minister for information Shaukat Ali Yousafzai was inaccessible. An official in the minister’s office said Mr Yousafzai was with KP Chief Minister Mahmood Khan.

Later, MNA Jawad Hussain condemned the attack and loss of precious lives in the blast. He demanded that the government constitute a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the incident.

Meanwhile, security forces cordoned off the area, as the explosion shattered semblance of peace in Orakzai which witnessed the last major terror incident in April 2017. Since then security forces have conducted several operations against militants in Orakzai district, surrounded by Kurram, Khyber, Kohat and Hangu districts. As some pockets of the district have yet to be de-notified as conflict zone, population census was not held in the upper Orakzai area last year.

Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar also contributed to this report.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2018