CHARSADDA: A suspected suicide bomber struck a convoy of JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman here on Thursday in the second such attack targeting him in as many days. Twelve people, three of them security personnel, were killed. The Maulana escaped unhurt.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks so far.
The JUI-F chief indirectly blamed the US and ‘some other elements’ for the attacks because, he said, they were unhappy with his criticism of their policies and actions.
“Apparently I was the target; the attackers sprayed my vehicle with bullets,” he told reporters at Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar where he had gone to visit the injured.
“Who is behind these attacks? I don’t know,” he said in reply to a question.
“I am opposing drone attacks, criticising the release of Raymond Davis and US policies and raising voice for the release of Aafia Siddiqui, which are not acceptable to some people.”
The US embassy condemned the attack. “We offer our sincere condolences to the families and friends of the victims,” said a statement issued in Islamabad.
A security official said the JUI-F leader had been warned about an assassination plot during his speech at a public meeting in Dera Ismail Khan but the warning was ignored.
“We are working on the group behind the threat to the Maulana in Dera Ismail Khan but it is premature to say anything now,” the official said. “The Maulana has long been on the hit list of the terrorists and he knows it.”
He said a suicide bomber wanted to attack Maulana Fazl in Swabi on Wednesday but security personnel stopped him on suspicion and he blew himself up.
“We urged the Maulana to cancel his planned public meetings in Charsadda and Mardan but he felt constrained to attend the rallies due to party pressure,” the official said.
He said Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti had been asked to persuade the JUI-F leader to call off his meetings.
After the second attack, the official said, the Maulana agreed to cancel the meetings and proceed to Islamabad.
“Maulana is a wise man and he understands that the threat to his life is real,” the official said.
On Wednesday, a suicide bomber on a motorbike detonated explosives at a JUI-F reception camp at the Swabi interchange. The attack left 12 people, including a police inspector, dead. Over 20 people were injured. About Thursday’s attack, Charsadda District Police Officer Mohammad Nisar Marwat said the suicide bomber who was on foot rushed towards a police van deployed for the security of the JUI-F chief who was to address party workers at Darul Uloom Islamia.
But JUI-F’s provincial information secretary Asif Iqbal Daudzai disputed the police statement and said the bomb had been placed along the road and several shots had been fired before the explosion.
He said three bullets had hit Maulana Fazl’s vehicle.
Witnesses said that police and security guards started firing into the air after the explosion.
The convoy was passing through a bazaar when the bomber hit it near a school. Maulana Fazl’s Land Cruiser was severely damaged.
Hospital sources said 12 people were killed and 32 injured. Police inspector Jamroz Khan Afridi and constables Haider Ali Shah and Mirza Ali, an unidentified woman and a student were among the dead.
Officials said 15 critically wounded people were taken to the Lady Reading Hospital.
Party sources said Maulana Fazl had suspended his activities on the advice of security officials.
Agencies add: Provincial Senior Minister Bashir Bilour told reporters that he could not say who was behind the blast, but Taliban militants were trying to destabilise the government by attacking politicians. “The Taliban do not want the politicians to meet people.”
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said: “Terrorists have no religion. If they can bomb mosques, they can also attack religious and political leaders. Every politician is under threat here.”
Meanwhile, President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani called Maulana Fazl and condemned the attack.
Expressing grief over the loss of innocent lives, the president said he was relieved that Maulana Fazl had escaped unhurt.
According to his spokesman Farhatullah Babar, the president said it was his conviction that the perpetrators of the crime would face justice.
The JUI-F leader thanked the president for his concern and prayers.
Prime Minister Gilani assured Maulana Fazl of appropriate security measures for his safety.
He said he had asked the interior ministry to investigate the incidents and submit a report.
Such cowardly acts, the prime minister said, could not shatter the resolve of the nation to eliminate terrorism.