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DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Aug 19: Thirty-two people, seven policemen and two health officials among them, were killed and 55 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up near the emergency ward of the District Headquarters Hospital here on Tuesday.

The attack was carried out when a large number of people had gathered there to protest against the murder of local Shia leader Basit Ali earlier in the day. Attacked by a gunman near the Faqirni Gate, he was brought to the hospital where he died.

Police said the suicide bomber, who appeared to be about 20 years old, had blown himself up in the presence of police personnel who were trying to control the crowd. “The bomber’s head and legs have been found,” police sources said. The emergency ward was completely destroyed by the explosion.

The deceased included 14 members of a family. Sources said that 10 to 12 of the injured were in critical condition.

Some of the injured, including several policemen, health workers and two journalists, were taken to the Combined Military Hospital and private hospitals.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban spokesman Maulvi Omar told Dawn on phone they had targeted police and other government officials and “did not intend to attack any specific religious sect (the Shia),” our correspondent in Bajaur reported.

The spokesman said the suicide attacks would continue till the military operations in Bajaur and Swat were stopped.

The deceased identified till Tuesday evening included constables Iftikhar Hussain, Wiqar, Munawar Shah, Modat Ali, Qamar Ali, Syed Saleh Shah, Rajab Ali, Fazal Shah, Ahmed Ali, Fazal Hussain, Zeeshan, Alamdar Shah, Nizakat Shah, Zaki Shah, Naseer, Tahir Abbas, Saghir Abbas, Haider Ali, Mohammad Taqi, Alamdar Hussain and Fawjdar Hussain.

Soon after the attack, residents said, all shops, markets and business centres were closed for fear of an eruption of sectarian clashes in the area. Reports of sporadic firing were received from various localities in the city.

Army and police cordoned off the area and started patrolling. The local administration called reinforcement to strengthen police force. Police erected barricades at several points on the Circular Road and the main Peshawar-D.I. Khan Road.

The explosion on Tuesday took place amid tension between the Sunni and Shia communities in the region that has spawned several targeted killings in recent weeks. “The motive behind the blast appeared to be sectarian and Shia protesters were the apparent target,” said a police official.

Section 144 was imposed and pillion-riding was banned in the city for an indefinite period. The decision was taken at an emergency meeting of the city’s civil and military administrations, which had been convened to prepare a plan to cope with possible sectarian strife in the sensitive district.

Four victims of the blasts were laid to rest in a graveyard in Kotli Imam while funeral prayers for 20 others were offered in Chah Syed Munawar Shah late on Tuesday night.

The Shia community decided to observe a three-day mourning from Wednesday in Dera Ismail Khan for the innocent people killed in the blast.