A teenage suicide bomber targeted tribal police in Bajaur Agency on Friday, killing at least 25 people, including seven law-enforcers – one of whom was the recipient of a presidential medal for valour.
At least 72 people were also wounded in the attack that targeted a Levies checkpoint in a busy marketplace of Khar, the main town in Bajaur Agency.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement emailed to The Express Tribune.
TTP spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan said that their targets were Levies officials Subedar Major Javed Khan and Subedar Quarter Master Fazl Rabi.
Fazal Rabi, according to Ehsan, was honoured with a ‘presidential award’ (Tamgha-e-Shujaat or medal of bravery) for killing several Taliban fighters. “While (Subedar) Major Javed was involved in the killing of Shaikh Marwan,” he said.
Shaikh Marwan was an Arab militant commander who was killed by Levies personnel before the 2008 military operation in Bajaur Agency.
The suicide attack came on the heels of two back-to-back explosions that killed five people, among them three Levies officials, in the Chamarkand area of Bajaur on Thursday.
After Thursday’s blasts, local authorities had clamped an indefinite curfew on the region.
Political Agent Islam Zeb confirmed to The Express Tribune that Friday’s strike was carried out by a suicide bomber.
“Strict security measures were put in place after yesterday’s blast – yet we couldn’t thwart today’s suicide attack,” he added.
Police official Abdul Hasib Khan put the death toll at 25 killed and 72 injured. “The tally includes Levies officials Javed Khan and Master Fazl Rabi and their three colleagues,” he added.
Hasib Khan said that the suicide bomber was in his early 20s. He approached the security checkpoint in the middle of Khar Bazaar and detonated the explosives strapped to his body.
Political administration official Fida Muhammad told The Express Tribune that a senior leader of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jaffar Shah, was also killed in the strike.
The injured were shifted to the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Khar and to the Lady Reading Hospital (LHR) in Peshawar. Medics at LHR said they have received four injured and half of them are in a critical condition.
A student, who was also injured in the attack, said that he was loading flour sacks onto a truck when the bomber struck. “There was a bang – and the truck’s tyres deflated suddenly. I was hit by shrapnel and ball bearings,” Zubair told The Express Tribune from his hospital bed in the LRH.
Another injured added that the bomber ran towards the Levies officials and detonated the explosives.
Commander of Bajaur Scouts Col Muhammad Shakeel Janua, while speaking to the media, said that the bomber might have come from across the border because ‘he was not a local resident’.
Bajaur Agency has been one of the toughest battlegrounds in the fight against the Taliban insurgency. The military conducted major operations there in 2008 and 2009 and has repeatedly declared it secure.
The TTP spokesperson said that the group knew all those involved in ‘activity’ against the Taliban, and warned that such people “will be treated with iron hands”.
The blast was the deadliest since February 17, when 31 people were killed by a suicide attack in Kurram Agency.
Since July 2007, up to 5,000 people have been killed in attacks blamed on the TTP and its allies, according to an AFP tally.
(With additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2012.