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Pakistani security personnel inspect a religious seminary after a explosion in the outskirts of Mingora, the main town in the district, on January 10, 2013. — Photo by AFP

MINGORA: At least 22 people were killed and over 70 injured in a blast at a Tableeghi centre in the once militants’ infested district of Swat on Thursday.

The cause of the blast in the basement of the centre on Takhtaband Road, some 5km southwest of Swat’s regional headquarters of Mingora, was not known, a senior official said.

“The cause of the blast is yet to be determined,” Deputy Commissioner Kamran Rehman told Dawn on phone from Saidu Sharif. “We are investigating the incident,” he said.

“It is very cold here and, therefore, there were a large number of people in the basement,” he said.

Hundreds of people turn up for special Thursday night prayers at the Tableeghi markaz.

Security personnel and police cordoned off the area and carried out rescue work. The bodies and the injured were taken to the district headquarters hospital in Saidu Sharif.

The powerful blast shattered windows and doors of the centre’s hall.

A senior doctor said the dead and wounded had signs of having been hit by explosives. “The bodies and the wounded bore signs of having been hit by a bomb. There was a smell of explosives.”

Some bodies and the wounded had cuts caused by shrapnel and ball-bearings used in explosive devices, Casualty Medical Officer Dr Mohammad Iqbal told Dawn on phone.

According to Dr Jamil, in charge of casualty ward, 21 bodies were lying in the hospital’s morgue while the number of injured was around 70.

District Police Officer Gul Afzal Afridi said the explosion had caused a small crater. “Police and army officials are investigating,” he said. “There are signs and indications that an explosive device has been used. There are marks of shrapnel and pallets there,” Mr Afridi said.

DIG Akhtar Hayat said the blast was an act of subversion. Bomb disposal squad personnel are investigating to determine the cause of the blast.

Ibne Ameen, an eyewitness, told this reporter that the blast had taken place when the khateeb asked people to prepare for Maghrib prayers. “As people stood up to go for ablution a huge explosion took place. The people started running here and there. There was sort of a stampede.”

He said over 1,000 local members of the jamat were present at the centre when the blast took place.

Swat, a tourist paradise of green valleys, snow-covered mountains and gushing blue waters, remained under control of militants till the army launched an operation in April 2009 and took control of the district.

Militant leader of the Swati Taliban, Maulana Fazlullah, left Swat and is now believed to be hiding in Afghanistan’s eastern Nooristan province.

Intelligence officials say Maulana Fazlullah and his fighters continue to try to sneak back into their former stronghold.

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