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Rescue workers collect evidence at the suicide attack site in Peshawar on December 22, 2012. – Photo by AFP

PESHAWAR: Senior provincial minister Bashir Ahmed Bilour was among nine people killed Saturday after a Pakistani Taliban bomber blew himself up in a meeting of the Awami National Party (ANP) in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

Police and hospital officials confirmed that at least eight other people , including a police SHO, Bilour’s personal secretary, and ANP workers, were also killed in the blast in the Dhaki Nalbandi area near the busy Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

Bilour, the second most senior member of the provincial Cabinet, was critically wounded with injuries to the chest and stomach and was being treated in the operation theatre, a senior hospital official had earlier confirmed before senior minister passed away.

Bilour had “wounds to the chest and stomach. We tried our best to save his life” but he died during surgery, Arshad Javed, a senior doctor at the hospital told news agency AFP.

According to details, the blast took place when senior leader Bilour along with the provincial leadership and workers of the ANP, which is the largest and the ruling party in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, had gathered for a party meeting.

Bomb squad experts said the suicide bomber detonated his explosives when the meeting was at its peak.

“The suicide bomber walked into the house where the meeting was taking place and detonated his vest,” Shafqat Malik, chief of the bomb disposal squad, told   AFP.

Zahidullah, 30, a shopkeeper in the area, said he was standing to Bilour’s rear when the bomber struck.

“The meeting was about to finish when I heard a noise and soon afterwards I saw a blue flame and then the blast hit,” he told AFP.

Over 18 people were also wounded in the blast, hospital officials confirmed.

Speaking to Dawn.com from an undisclosed location, a spokesman for the banned Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Ehsanullah Ehsan, claimed responsibility for the blast and Bilour’s assassination.

“We claim responsibility for killing Bashir Ahmed Bilour. It is revenge for the martyrdom of our elder Sheikh Naseeb Khan,” TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP.

Sheikh Naseeb Khan was a teacher at a madrassa where many Pakistani Taliban members were educated.

The bombing follows last week’s attack on Peshawar airport, when nine people including five attackers died in a car bomb, rocket and gun attack.

Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban had attacked an ANP rally in Charsadda scheduled to be addressed by ANP Chief Asfand Yar Wali Khan.

The Taliban spokesman had vowed to intensify attacks against political gatherings of “the secular ANP and MQM”, the biggest political party in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial capital.

Spokesman Ehsan had said the ANP and MQM would be on their hit-list because of their secular views and their enmity towards the Taliban.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister and a member of the ANP, said both he and Bilour had repeatedly received threats from militants. He condemned the attack and said the government needed to intensify its battle against the Taliban.

“Terrorism has engulfed our whole society,” said Hussain. “They are targeting our bases, our mosques, our bazars, public meetings and our security checkpoints.”

Saturday’s attack by the TTP comes ahead of general elections in Pakistan expected in the spring.