For years, senior Awami National Party leader Bashir Ahmed Bilour was engaged in a trenchant and exhausting verbal duel with the Taliban. At 69, Bilour was living a charmed life, having survived at least two assassination attempts and other acts of reprisal. But then on Saturday a third bid on his life proved successful.
At least eight other people – including Bilour’s secretary and a local police official – were also killed in a suicide attack that took place during a political meeting of the ANP in the Dhaki Nalbandi neighbourhood of Peshawar.
Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officials said a suicide bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body when the meeting was at its peak and dozens of people were vowing allegiance to the ANP.
“The bomber walked into the house where the meeting was ongoing and detonated his vest,” said Additional Inspector General of Police Shafqat Malik, who heads the BDS.
Police said around 100 people had gathered for the meeting when the suicide bomber blew himself up. “The bomber reached very close to Bilour,” senior police officer Asif Iqbal told AFP.
However, witnesses differed. “The meeting had ended and Bilour was leaving the venue when supporters gathered around him. It was at this point that the bomber struck,” Hameed Jan, the vice president of ANP Peshawar chapter, told The Express Tribune.
Seven people, including Bilour’s personal secretary Haji Noor and SHO Sattar Khattak, died on the spot while the ANP leader was critically injured with 17 others, said Haji Imtiaz, the deputy superintendent of police (DSP).
Bilour was driven to the Lady Reading Hospital (LHR), where medics performed a series of surgeries but could not resuscitate him.
“Bashir has embraced martyrdom,” his brother Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the federal minister for railways, told stunned ANP workers at the LRH. However, he appealed for calm.
Bilour had “wounds to the chest and stomach. We tried our best to save his life” but he died during surgery, said Dr Arshad Javed, the chief executive officer of the LRH. He added that when Bilour was brought to the hospital he had already suffered a cardiac arrest.
The explosion itself wreaked widespread damage in the congested, downtown neighbourhood, where several shops and vehicles were damaged. Scenes of chaos were witnessed soon after as people scrambled to search for their loved ones among the casualties.
According to BDS official Abdul Haq, the bomber carried four kilogrammes of explosives in his suicide vest. Police found the severed head and other limbs of the bomber who appeared to be in his mid-teens. Akhtar, a shopkeeper, said he was in his shop when the bomber struck. “I saw Bilour surrounded by supporters. Suddenly, there was an ear-splitting explosion and I was thrown out of my chair by the impact,” he told The Express Tribune.
Akhtar added that he rushed out to find dead and injured people lying in pools of blood. “Human limbs littered the place and blood was all over,” he recalled. Soon afterwards, police, rescuers and residents rushed to the spot to shift the casualties to hospitals.
The Darra Adam Khel and Khyber Agency chapter of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. “The attack was carried out by what he called Shuba-e-Intiqam (Dawn of Revenge). We are at war with the ANP which is against our religion,” the group’s spokesperson, Muhammad, told The Express Tribune in a telephone call from an undisclosed location. He claimed that the slain senior police officers, Sifwat Ghayoor, Kalam Khan and Khurshid, were also targeted by his group.
It was the third attack on Bilour. On November 11, 2008, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of Qayyum Stadium in Peshawar Saddar when the ANP leader was leaving the place after attending the closing ceremony of inter-provincial games. Bilour remained unhurt in the attack that had killed three people.
On March 11, 2009, there was an abortive suicide attack on Bilour in the Namak Mandi neighbourhood of Peshawar. The bomber was challenged by the police before he could detonate his explosives. The bomber fled police firing and blew himself up in a nearby house, killing six people.
The provincial government has announced three days of mourning across the province. Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, meanwhile, announced one-day state mourning for Bilour. The national flag will also fly at half mast. The Sindh government also announced a day of mourning. Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that the funeral prayers for the slain ANP leader will be offered at 2pm on Sunday at Colonel Sher Khan Shaheed Stadium, Peshawar.
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Published in The Express Tribune, December 23rd, 2012.