CHARSADDA, Feb 9: A powerful bomb ripped through a public meeting of the Awami National Party here on Saturday, killing 25 people and injuring 51 others.

Officials said the bomb had been planted near the stage and the explosion occurred as soon as recitation from the Holy Quran began.

The meeting was organised in the Hujra (cell) of Khursheed Khan, a local leader of the party.

“I was near the stage when the explosion took place. There was no one near the place of the blast,” said Laiq Shah, an injured guard. But federal Interior Minister Hamid Nawaz termed it a suicide attack.

The police said it had found a severed head at the scene.

The ANP’s president, Asfandyar Wali Khan, said the explosion was a conspiracy to delay the polls and announced a three-day mourning period.

Afrasiab Khattak, the party’s provincial chief who was on the stage at the time, remained unhurt, while its candidate from a provincial assembly constituency (PF-21), Masoom Shah, was injured.

He was still in the operation theatre at the time of filing of this report.

Mr Khattak visited Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital to enquire after the wounded.

District Nazim Farman Ali said that 25 people had been killed.

Five of the bodies were taken to the district headquarters hospital. The hospital placed 33 of the injured in its emergency ward.

A doctor told Dawn that one headless and two other unidentified bodies had been brought to the hospital. A policeman was also killed in the explosion.

Following the blast, the site was littered with charred bodies and wounded people. Pieces of human flesh clung from the walls and the roof of the building. The air was filled with the stench of human blood.

Ihsanuddin Khan, a senior police official in Shabqadar, said that his team had collected 10 bodies, sending four of them to a local hospital. Five bodies were brought to the district headquarters hospital in Charsadda.

This was the third major explosion in Charsadda district over the past ten months. A suicide bomber struck a public meeting addressed by former interior minister Aftab Ahmad Khan Sherpao on April 28, leaving 32 dead. Mr Sherpao remained unhurt.

Another explosion rocked a mosque during Eidul Azha prayers on Dec 21. It claimed 57 lives. Mr Sherpao was once again among the survivors. The ANP chief, Asfandyar Wali Khan, was at his residence in Wali Bagh at the time of the explosion. “Because of this shocking incident, I am not in a position to offer any comment,” Mr Asfandyar said.

Later, the party released a statement which quoted Asfandyar Wali as saying: “Pukhtuns have rendered great sacrifices for the country and democracy and are ready for yet more sacrifices.”

It said the “elimination of genuine leadership” would create a vacuum, providing an opportunity to vested interests to exploit the situation.

The ANP chief warned that killing of Pukhtuns would endanger the country’s integrity.

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