QUETTA: A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polio vaccination centre in Quetta on Wednesday, killing at least 15 people, mainly police, officials said.
The policemen had been gathering outside the centre to accompany polio workers on the third day of a vaccination campaign which are frequently targeted by Taliban and other Islamist militant groups in Pakistan.
“There are 15 dead, including 12 police, one paramilitary, and two civilians,” a local police official told AFP.
Balochistan Home Minister Sarfraz Bugti added: “So far 15 people have been injured in the blast, seven of whom are in critical condition.”
Some officials had begun to gather evidence from the scene while others were collecting body parts to put in bags.
Eye-witness Shabir Ahmed, a 32-year-old police constable, told AFP he had been deployed to protect a polio vaccination team that was due to leave for various neighbourhoods of Quetta at 10 am.
“Suddenly there was a loud bang and I fell to the ground, I could not see anything, there was dust everywhere,” he said.
“Then I heard people screaming and sirens of ambulances,” he continued, adding he had received shrapnel wounds to his stomach, hands, legs and feet.
Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesperson for the provincial government, vowed the polio immunisation drive would continue.
“We won’t allow the nefarious designs of the terrorists to succeed, we will eliminate polio,” he said.
Of the 15 killed, 12 were part of the police force, one from the frontier corps and another a civilian.
TTP claims responsibility
Meanwhile, the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the deadly attack.
“A TTP’s special unit carried out successful attack at Quetta’s Satellite Town area, killing and injuring several security officials,” the TTP spokesperson, Mohammad Khorasani said.
Such attacks on security forces are not rare in the region. Two police personnel were shot dead on January 8 when unidentified armed men opened fire at them outside a mosque in Multani Muhala.
The latest attack comes as a suicide bombing struck near the Pakistani consulate in Afghanistan’s Jalalabad city, killing two people just days after four-country talks aimed at reviving Taliban peace negotiations commenced in Islamabad.
Pakistan is one of only two countries where polio, a crippling childhood disease, remains endemic. Attempts to eradicate it have been badly hit by militant attacks on immunisation teams that have claimed nearly 80 lives since December 2012.
In 2014 the number of polio cases recorded in Pakistan soared to 306, the highest in 14 years.
The most recent attack came in November last year, when unknown gunmen shot and killed the head of an immunisation programme in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa district of Swabi.
Militant opposition to all forms of inoculation mounted after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to help track down al Qaeda’s former leader Osama Bin Laden in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.
The terror chief was killed during a US special forces raid in 2011.
Balochistan, is also home to a raging insurgency that has claimed the lives of hundreds of soldiers and militants since it re-ignited in 2004, with rebels often attacking government installations and personnel.
The province’s roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.
President, prime minister condemn Quetta blast
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast on Wednesday. In their separate statements, the two leaders expressed deep sorrow and grief on the loss of life, Radio Pakistan reported.
“The government is committed to stamp out extremism from the country and the operation will continue till elimination of terrorism,” the premier said in a statement. “The Pakistan Army has destroyed hideouts of terrorists and is now engaged to eliminate terrorists,” the statement added.
Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Balochistan Governor Mohammad Khan Achakzai, Chief Minister Sardar Sanaullah Zehri and leaders of different political parties have also condemned the blast.