At least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded when a powerful bomb tore through a bus in downtown Peshawar Wednesday morning. The bomb went off as the bus carrying mostly government employees cruised past Sunehri Masjid in the crowded marketplace of Saddar.
The Lashkar-e-Islam extremist group claimed responsibility saying the attack was revenge for death sentences passed against 13 militants, according to Reuters. The bus was carrying around 60 government employees, women and students to Hayatabad, a posh neighbourhood of Peshawar.
SSP Operation Abass Majeed Marwat confirmed the death toll. “The timed device was fitted with ball bearings and was planted beneath the sixth row of seats from the back,” he said. SP Cantt Kashif Zulfiqar added that the bomb weighed around eight kilos.
According to SP Zulfiqar, eight buses carry government employees from different cities of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa to the Peshawar Development Authority building in Hayatabad every morning. “This bus started its journey from Dargai and picked up passengers from Malakand, Khanmai and Charsadda en route to Hayatabad,” he said.
The bomb went off near Sunehri Masjid but the bus skidded along the road for 500 metres and stopped outside the West Cantt police station. Several nearby shops were damaged by the impact of the blast.
A survivor said the bus appeared to leap in the air after the explosion. “A huge blast occurred and I felt that the bus had jumped in the air. I could only see flames and smoke in the rear of the bus. People started crying. I got an injury on my head and light wounds on the body,” said Faqir Gul, 32, a shopkeeper from Charsadda.
Shahbaz, an employee of the Anti-Corruption Department, said the bomb exploded moments after it dropped some passengers and drove towards Sunehri Masjid. “I was lucky because moments earlier I had left my seat to sit in front rows. This saved my life,” he added.
The blast turned the bus into a heap of mangled metal, and Rescue 1122 officials had to cut through the metal to retrieve the casualties. A witness said local shopkeepers rushed to help the victims. “We could only pull out two passengers. The rest were trapped inside and unable to move,” said Muhammad Khan, who owns a tailoring shop in the market.
“We waited until rescue teams reached the site,” he added. The casualties were driven to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and Cantonment Board Hospital (CBH).
Officially, 16 people were killed and 45 wounded in the bombing, but independent sources claimed the figure was much higher. Twenty-seven injured were shifted to CBH; three dead and 10 injured to CMH; and 11 dead and 46 injured to the LRH. Women and children are also among the injured, while four of the injured shifted to the CMH were said to be Pakistan Air Force employees.
According to Reuters, Lashkar-e-Islam, a religious extremist group allied with the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for death sentences passed against 13 militants for terrorism-related offences. On Tuesday, army chief General Raheel Sharif signed execution orders of 13 terrorists, including a 2010 Nanga Parbat attacker, who were convicted and condemned to death by military courts.
The Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) registered an FIR against unidentified attackers. A team has been constituted to investigate the attack. Bomb Disposal Unit’s head AIG Shafqat Malik told The Express Tribune that the attack carried the signatures of those who had earlier attacked Civil Secretariat employees twice on Charsadda Road.
“Same style, same amount of explosive,” he said. “We can’t say anything for sure, but the device was possibly planted by the attackers as the bus stopped at several places on its route.”
In September 2013, 19 people were killed in a similar blast on a bus carrying Civil Secretariat employees on Charsadda Road, on the outskirts of Peshawar. In June 2012, a bomb ripped through a Civil Secretariat bus, also on Charsadda Road, killing 19 people.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 17th, 2016.