PESHAWAR: At least 18 people were killed and 49 injured in a suicide blast in Peshawar near a Awami National Party (ANP) meeting on Tuesday, said officials.
The bomb blast took place in Yakatoot just after the arrival of senior ANP leader Ghulam Ahmed Bilour.
“There were a lot of people present at the site for the ANP leader’s reception. The suicide bomber merged in the crowd and blew himself up near the driver’s seat,” said Inspector General of Police Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Liaquat Ali.
The driver was killed, while Bilour escaped the attack after sustaining minor injuries.
Responding to questions regarding security arrangements, the IGP said that the deaths of policemen in the incident prove that there was adequate security arrangement. “They [police] have borne the brunt of the blast first. We did all the [security] arrangements that were required,” he added.
The IGP said that there are security threats but the police are trying on a daily basis to avert them by conducting raids, picking up people and gathering information.
At least four police officials, including SHO Kotwali Abid Khan and two constables, were also killed in the blast.
“It was a suicide bombing,” senior police official Shafqat Malik told AFP.
Up to six kilogrammes of explosives along with splinters and ball bearings were used in the bombing.
“We have found the feet of the bomber,” Malik added.
The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, but apologised for injuring Bilour, saying it had been targeting his nephew, Haroon.
“We apologise to Ghulam Bilour because we announced an amnesty for him,” Taliban spokesperson Ehsanullah Ehsan told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“Our target was Haroon Bilour,” he said.
The injured, including Express News correspondent Ehtisham Khan and several children, were shifted to Lady Reading Hospital. Emergency was imposed at the hospital.
ANP spokesperson Zahid Khan, talking to Express News, said that his party will continue to make sacrifices but it is the government’s responsibility to provide security. He said that an FIR will also be lodged against the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for not taking enough security measures.
“We are screaming [about security] but the caretaker government is doing nothing. It has hijacked the ECP,” Khan added.
ANP chief Asfandyar Wali, while talking to Express News, hinted towards a concerted conspiracy against the his party. “They want us to get out of politics. They have removed security from all our members. If they are caretakers, they have to give us level playing field. It looks like to us that all of these are involved in this conspiracy.”
“If you know one political party is targeted and you take all the security away, what message are you trying to give that party?”
Wali asked whether this was a form of pre poll rigging. “Every party is allowed to conduct rallies, ANP is not allowed this. And the authorities are sitting as observers.”
Meanwhile, Haroon Bilour who was the main target of the blast, insisted that while there was no security lapse, ANP candidates needed fool-proof security. “There was no security lapse, since police suffered casualties. But the fears we had voiced that ANP is a target and that all security given to us was withdrawn.”
“The authorities should recognise this and all ANP candidates should be given fool-proof security.”
Nearby shops were also damaged in the blast.
The TTP had said that the group would continue to attack politicians from the ANP, MQM and PPP ahead of the elections. The group had also called upon people to stay away from the election rallies of the three parties.