PARACHINAR: At least 23 people were killed and 100-plus wounded when a suicide bomber detonated a car ‘rigged with explosives’ outside an Imambargah in a busy marketplace in the main town of Kurram tribal region on Friday. The grisly violence sparked angry protests by local residents in Parachinar, the administrative headquarters of the agency, which is prone to sectarian violence.
Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed credit for the deadly bombing in Parachinar, which came less than two months after a bomb ripped through the main vegetable market in the same city on January 21.
“A car cruised through the market and pulled up outside the main entrance to the Imambargah where it detonated with an ear-splitting bang,” eyewitness Manzar Hussain told The Express Tribune. The entrance is reserved for female members of the local Shia community. Security officials confirmed it was a suicide car bombing.
Chaos, pure primal chaos ensued. Survivors were hiding inside shops, then stumbling through dust-choked air filled with the sound of screams, tripping over bodies as they searched for the wounded in the market. “I saw a child and three women lying in a pool of blood,” Manzar said.
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Shopkeepers in the market also spoke of panic and chaos. "People were screaming for help... When I looked back everything was filled with dust," Sardar Hussain said. He saw his father ‘drenched in blood and dust’, while the two clients in their store were lying dead on the floor.
“We closed doors of the shop as we thought there might be a second blast, but we heard gunshots for a while and people were shouting, so we got out,” Muhammad Ali, a resident at another shop, told AFP. They emerged to a scene of desperation, Ali said, describing bystanders carrying the wounded to hospital in any vehicle they could find as security forces arrived.
Officials and medics confirmed the casualties. “Seventy-eight people with different types of wounds are currently admitted in the ill-equipped Agency Headquarters Hospital,” Dr Sabir Hussain, the agency surgeon, told The Express Tribune. “Eight people died during the course of treatment,” he added. “The fatalities include women and children.”
At least 32 people have been flown in military helicopters to the Combined Military Hospitals in Peshawar and Kohat for treatment of their life-threatening wounds.
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The deadly bombing triggered impromptu street protests in the city. Angry protesters marched to the office of Political Agent Ikramullah, where they were stopped by security men. As irate protesters – led by local clerics Allama Fida Hussain Muzahiri and Allama Abid Hussain al Hussaini – charged on, the security men allegedly opened fire, killing three of them. A security official, however, dismissed the allegation as baseless.
The protesters, who were carrying bodies of the victims in coffins, refused to budge. They put the coffins on the main road and staged a sit-in which continued till the early hours of Saturday. Calling it a security failure, they wondered how the bomber could manage to drive the car ‘packed with explosives and mortar shells’ into the city centre unnoticed! They demanded that the political agent be sacked for his failure to check sectarian terrorist violence in the agency.
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A security official said that security had been at stepped up in Kurram Agency since January this year. However, local lawmaker Sajid Hussain Turi claimed that threats to the Imambargah conveyed to the political administration two months ago had been ignored.
The Jamaatul Ahrar faction of TTP claimed responsibility for the attack in a message sent to media outlets and identified the bomber as Abu Darda, a resident of Mohmand Agency. The group claimed that the target was the Shia community.
The attack comes after a wave of terrorist violence killed 130 people across the country in February, unnerving citizens who had been emboldened by improving security and prompting a military crackdown. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, urging ‘complete annihilation’ of terrorism in the country. (WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AFP)