PESHAWAR, April 16: In yet another militant attack on secular parties, a suicide bomber blew himself up at an election rally of the Awami National Party (ANP) on Tuesday evening, killing at least 15 people, including four policemen and a journalist. The ANP’s senior leader and former federal railways minister Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was among the 50 injured.
Our correspondent in Miramshah reported that the Taliban had claimed responsibility for the attack on the ANP rally in Peshawar’s Gilani Chowk. The Tahreek-i-Taliban Pakistan spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan told journalists on phone from an unspecified place that Haroon Bilour was the target, but unfortunately Ghulam Ahmed Bilour got injuries for which “we excuse”.
The Taliban have time and again threatened to target three secular parties -- the ANP, PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement -- for what they called supporting the military action in tribal areas and the “war on terror”.
Peshawar police chief Liaqat Ali Khan told reporters that the bomber blew himself up close to the vehicle of ANP leaders.
The dead included Amjad, driver of the former federal minister, Kotwali SHO Abidur Rehman, ASI Hussain Khan and two police constables. Tariq Aslam, a sub-editor in Daily Pakistan, an Urdu-language newspaper, was killed while two other journalists, Ihtisham and Azhar Ali, were injured.
“I was standing at the entry point of the venue of the public meeting. When Mr Bilour’s jeep reached the place a huge blast took place and I fell down due to a fracture in the leg,” head constable Fazal Maula of Charsadda told Dawn at the hospital.
Bomb Disposal Unit in charge AIG Shafqat Malik said the head and legs of the bomber had been found. He said that about six kilograms of explosives laced with ball bearings had been used in the blast.
Ghulam Ahmad Bilour’s nephew Barrister Haroon Ahmad Bilour, whose father Bashir Ahmad Bilour was killed in a suicide bombing in December last year, was not at the rally.
“There is a high level of threat,” Liaqat Khan said, adding: “We are trying to provide security to poll candidates and we have picked up a number of suspected terrorists. All political parties will have to sit with us to devise a strategy.”
An ANP leader said a visibly shocked Ghulam Ahmed Bilour was seen boarding an ambulance with blood stains on his trousers.
“Some of the wounded are in serious condition,” Deputy Commissioner of Peshawar Javed Marwat told Dawn. “We are monitoring the situation.”
There was chaos as rescue teams and workers of the ANP rushed to the congested area and shifted the dead and the wounded to the Lady Reading Hospital. Human flesh and blood stains were spattered all over the place.
It was the sixth such attack on ANP leaders and candidates over the past one month. The party had supported the military operations against militants in Swat as well as the tribal regions.
A visibly angry ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan alleged that certain elements wanted to eliminate liberal forces from the election process and parliament. “This is a conspiracy,” he told a private TV channel.
“They are pushing us to the wall, but let me tell them that we will not surrender; we will not give up. We have rendered sacrifices and will continue to do so; we will not surrender our territory to extremists,” he said.
Former Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister Mian Iftikhar condemned the attack and said the ANP would never call for delaying the elections. He said it was a conspiracy and his party would take a firm stand in the face of terrorism.