(Correction: The death toll in the explosion was wrongly reported as 14 earlier. We apologise for the error.)
KOHAT: At least 10 people, two policemen among them, were killed and 16 others injured on Friday when a suicide bomber struck a private hospital in Hangu which has been battling the twin scourge of militancy and sectarianism for over a decade.
Police received a call from a man who introduced himself as Abu Mansoor, 'commander' of the Lashkar-i-Jhangvi Al Almi of Hangu, Kohat and Orakzai and Kurram Agencies, and claimed the responsibility for the blast.
The suicide attack had all the hallmarks of a sectarian assault and followed a similar blast on the first of Muharram on a bus taking mostly Shia passengers to Lower Orakzai. The hospital and a nearby imambargah are run by a Shia community trust.
Hangu, Orakzai, Kurram and Kohat regions have been rife with sectarian tensions for a long time. In order to maintain peace during Muharram, the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has deployed a large number of troops in areas from Dera Ismail Khan to Orakzai, Hangu, Kurram and Kohat.
“So far 10 bodies have been brought to the Hangu Civil Hospital. Among them are constables Waqar Hassain and Hikmat Ali. The bodies of a woman, three men and a child are not recognisable,” Inspector Murtaza told this correspondent in the hospital. Other victims were identified as Khalid Gul, Mohammad Ali and Khalid Raza.
Those injured include Wajid Ali, Jaffar, Sameen Gul, Raz Mohammad, Mohammad Waseem, Imtiaz Ali, Arsalan, Sufian Ali, Bibi Shalwa, Sardar Hussain, Tasleem Bibi, Maryam Bibi, Tahir Mohammad, Bibi Samreen, Aqeel Hussain and constable Dildar.
According to officials, the bomber managed to enter the congested 'red zone' area of Pass Kalay in Hangu town with a tractor-trolley laden with about 400kg of explosives and rammed it into the boundary wall of Al Zohra hospital at about 4pm.
Bomb disposal personnel said the explosives had been hidden under a layer of gravel.
The explosion left a 12-foot deep and 50-foot wide crater.
Investigators were examining the damaged tractor to trace the owner.
“It is a major security breach. This area is inhabited by the Shia community and the administration makes strict security arrangements following repeated attacks on imambargahs, particularly during Muharram, since 2006. We will investigate the incident from this angle after completing the rescue work,” a senior official said.
Besides damaging the hospital building, the explosion destroyed 16 adjoining houses and shattered windowpanes at places up to 3km away.
Troops took over control of the town after the blast and started patrolling sensitive areas amid unconfirmed reports that the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi was threatening to mount another suicide attack.
Police and troops cordoned off the blast site and sealed the borders of Hangu district with Kohat and Orakzai and Kurram Agencies.
The administration imposed a curfew and army commandos were deployed at all government offices, banks and other important installations. All roads leading to the town were blocked with barbed wire. Hangu bazaar area has suffered riots and arson attacks after such incidents in the past.
The rescue of people trapped in the rubble took about five hours and volunteers and police said there was no more victim in the debris of the destroyed and damaged buildings.
An emergency was declared in all hospitals in Kohat division and security was tightened in adjoining districts and tribal areas.
According to an intelligence official, a phone call had been intercepted in which two men congratulated each other for the 'success” of the suicide blast. “One of them said another suicide bomber was ready and awaiting orders of the 'high command'.”
Kohat Commissioner Khalid Khan Umerzai appealed to people to remain calm and united.
In the suicide attack on Kohat's Teerah bazaar on Wednesday, 19 people had been killed.