DARRA ADAMKHEL/ PESHAWAR, March 2: A powerful blast hit a tribal peace jirga near the Zarghunkhel checkpost in Darra Adamkhel on Sunday, killing at least 42 people and wounding another 58.
The jirga of Zarghunkhel, Akhurwal, Sheraki, Bostikhel and Toor Chapper tribes had been convened to discuss the formation of a Lashkar to drive militants out of the area, sources said.
It was not clear if the blast was the work of a suicide bomber, but local officials said that a teenager had detonated explosives just after the meeting had ended.
A severed head was found at the site and the officials believed it was that of the bomber. Some people identified the teenager as a youth from the Sheraki area of Darra, a hub of militants.
Security forces, it may be mentioned, launched an operation against militants in Darra Adamkhel in January in which scores of security personnel and militants have been killed.
Izat Khan, a tribesman injured in the explosion, told Dawn at the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar that the blast took place when the tribal elders were finalising modalities for raising the tribal force.
“I fell and became unconscious just as I was about to leave the meeting,” Mr Khan recalled. He pointed out that no official of the political administration or the army was there and said he had doubts about the official statement that the blast had been caused by a suicide attack.
This is the fourth explosion during the past three days in the NWFP and Fata. On Friday, an explosion killed three police personnel and a blast in Swat during the funeral of one of the slain police personnel killed 46 people. A suicide bomber hit a vehicle of Levies Force in Bajaur tribal region on Saturday and killed two people and wounded 24 others.
The jirga was attended by over 1,000 tribesmen. It had started at about 9am and ended at two hours later after unanimously deciding to form a Lashkar and calling upon the army to withdraw troops from the area. The meeting also sanctioned action against militants, who were attacking people in the name of Islam.
Tribal elder Haji Gul Rahim said most of the people attending the jirga had dispersed and about 200 people were discussing measures for security on the Indus Highway.
Witnesses said that the blast site was littered with human flesh and severed limbs. They said that the blast was so intense that it caused severe burn injuries.
Maulana Sabir Afridi, convener of the jirga, Haji Zar Khan, Haji Nazer, Haji Jamal Hussain, Malik Mohammad Nawaz and Haji Khan Mohammad Din were among the dead.
Dr Hamid Afridi, a senior health officer of the Darra , said that 43 of the injured had been shifted to hospitals in Peshawar and 15 of them were being treated at a hospital in Zarghunkhel.
Doctors said that 32 injured people were taken to the Lady Ready Hospital in Peshawar and six of them died there. Some of the injured were admitted to the Hayatabad Medical Complex.
Local people said that no security measures had been taken for the jirga either by the political administration or the army. They complained that no official had visited the area after the blast and no arrangement was made to take the wounded to hospitals.
The NWFP Governor condemned the blast and termed it a suicide attack.
A handout issued in Peshawar said: “Governor Owais Ghani has described this suicide attack un-Islamic, inhuman act, and in total violation of tribal norms and traditions of the area, in which elders and the most respectful forum, jirga, had been targeted.”
“These elements would meet their fate soon as the government and the people had joined hands to root them out for the sake of peace and stability in the area”, he added.