At least 20 security personnel were killed and 30 others injured — some of them critically — when a bomb ripped through a van in the Bannu cantonment area on Sunday morning, security officials said.
Independent sources expect the number of fatalities to go up owing to the critical condition of those injured in the blast.
“The explosion took place in a civil Hiace van inside Bannu Parade Ground at 8:45 am,” a senior military official told The Express Tribune. The blast occurred just as Frontier Corps (FC) troops had stepped into the van ahead of their departure.
“The K-P paramilitary unit had rented a vehicle from the market for movement of its troops,” he added. The vehicle was supposed to carry the soldiers to Razmak, a town in North Waziristan Agency.
Another official said six of the bodies were beyond recognition. “DNA tests are being carried out to identify them,” he added. The injured were shifted to the Combined Military Hospitals (CMHs) in Bannu and Peshawar. Of those shifted to CMH Peshawar, 15 were said to be in a critical condition.
More than 40 vehicles were present in the Parade Ground, also known as Amandi Ground, when the blast ripped through one of them which was parked near Razmak Gate, a third security official said.
“It wasn’t immediately known whether it was a suicide bombing or the device was detonated through a remote control,” he added. “The van driver was also killed in the blast.”
A senior police official from Bannu said that after the blast, security forces and police were deployed in the cantonment area, while all entry and exit points were closed. Later, a curfew was imposed in the cantonment area, he said.
The police official said around a dozen vehicles were destroyed and several were damaged in the blast. Some 15 caskets were provided to the security forces from the Bannu Police Line for shifting the bodies to their hometowns.
According to an eyewitness, the vehicle hit by the bomb was transformed into scorched metal. “I collected human remains, including hands and legs, from the site after the attack,” he said on condition of anonymity.
Body parts and personal belongings of the troops littered the scene. “I also helped rescue workers in moving the injured to ambulances,” the witness added.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Shahidullah Shahid claimed responsibility for the attack. “It was part of our fight against a secular system,” he told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“The army is our enemy. We will carry out many more attacks like this,” he told Reuters in a separate phone call.
After the blast, security forces backed by helicopter gunships launched a search operation in Mirali tehsil of North Waziristan. Helicopter gunships shelled suspected militant hideouts in Mosaki, Khaisur Road and in the surroundings of Mirali Bazaar.
A local tribal elder, Malik Sher Khan, while talking to journalists claimed that three tribesmen were killed on Khaisur Road, while two minors died in shelling on a house in Mosaki village.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the Bannu blast and expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, meanwhile, sought a report from the FC inspector general on why proper care was not taken while hiring private vehicles. Speaking to journalists in Islamabad, he said that a military inquiry had been ordered into the attack.
The ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), one of the strongest backers of peace talks, also condemned the attack and admitted that under these circumstances dialogue was not possible.
In a statement, PTI chief Imran Khan said such attacks along with the federal government’s continuing inability to formulate a comprehensive security policy, had made it difficult to commence a formal dialogue and give peace a chance.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 20th, 2014.