Chief of his own faction of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) Maulana Fazlur Rehman had a narrow escape in a suicide attack which killed 10 people near here on Wednesday.
Another 20 people were also injured in the attack which took place on the Motorway near the Swabi interchange in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
A suicide bomber riding on a motorcycle detonated the explosives strapped to his body at a police checkpoint minutes before the Maulana’s bullet-proof Land Cruiser reached the spot, an eyewitness told The Express Tribune.
Police official Hayatullah Khan said the Maulana’s convoy was set to enter the town when the blast hit. “We were lined up and party members came out from a nearby reception camp. Suddenly there was a huge blast amid welcome slogans by party workers. Shrapnel hit me and I received injuries to my head and leg,” he said.
A local JUI-F leader said the bomber wanted to target their chief, who was scheduled to address a public meeting in the Ambar area of Swabi. But he blew himself up when police tried to stop him.
“Our leader appeared to be the target, but he is safe,” said local JUI-F leader Maulana Fazle Ali.
Local police chief Abdullah Jan told the media that they have recovered the severed head and legs of the bomber from the site.
The bomber has been identified as Irshad Afridi, a teenage militant from the Khyber tribal region. Police said the bomber was identified with the help of an identity card recovered from his person.
Jan also confirmed the casualties. “Seven people died on the spot and three more succumbed to their injuries in the hospital,” he said. The injured were being treated at the Swabi district headquarters hospital, Shahmansoor Medical Complex and Khunda Civil Hospital.
District Health Officer Dr Gul Muhammad said that some of the injured with critical wounds have been shifted to Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital. He feared the death toll could rise further.
Witnesses said that the bomber detonated the explosives strapped to his body after having an altercation with police officials who stopped him at a checkpoint. The explosion took place as the vehicle carrying former chief minister of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Akram Durrani, who also belongs to the JUI-F, cruised past the site.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman was scheduled to address a public meeting in Swabi city as part of his campaign against the Western coalition’s air strikes on Libya.
Syed Abdul Jabar Shah, District Coordination Officer of Swabi, said that the bomber used an unregistered motorcycle to mislead investigators. However, he did not say that the JUI-F chief was the target.
It was the second attack on the JUI-F, which is considered ideologically close to the Taliban. Earlier on March 2, 2009, five persons were killed in an attack on an Islamic seminary in Pishin district of Balochistan, where JUI-F senior leader Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani was about to address a convocation.
Hours after the suicide attack, the JUI-F chief addressed a public meeting where he blamed the provincial government for its failure to provide security to people. “The government did not take appropriate security measures despite the fact that local JUI-F leaders had sought strict security for the meeting,” he said.
He said that his party would not be cowed down by such cowardly attacks. “We will continue to move forward with our mission despite all obstacles.”
The Maulana also came down hard on the federal government for its ‘flawed policies’ which have provided the US a “licence to kill innocent people in Pakistan”.
Referring to Pakistan’s support in the war against terror, he said, “It is not our war. It’s a war for American interests in the region.”
The maulana, who has launched a campaign to mobilise support for Libyan dictator Col Qaddafi, told the gathering that the United States was instigating unrest in the Muslim world. “The Americans and their Western supporters want to see a weak political leadership in the region in the larger interest of Israel.”
Senate demands govt to bring perpetrators to justice
Setting aside party differences, lawmakers in the upper house of parliament voiced serious concerns over the Swabi suicide attack and passed a resolution demanding the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Nayyer Hussain Bokhari, leader of the House in the Senate, allowed the JUI-F senators to move the resolution, which was adopted unanimously.
Bokhari urged the country’s political leadership to join hands to defeat terrorism, which he said was targeting every segment of society.
Senator Raza Rabbani, who is also minister for interprovincial coordination, assured the lawmakers that the government would take every step to unearth the culprits behind the incident.
Earlier, JUI-F Senator Haji Ghulam Ali informed the legislators about the attack targeting the convoy of Maulana Fazlur Rehman. A delegation of Afghan parliamentarians was also present in the house to witness the proceedings.
Another JUI-F Senator Rehmanullah Kakar, who was minister for housing before his party pulled out of the ruling coalition, came down hard on the country’s intelligence officials and demanded their accountability.
Senator Professor Khursheed Ahmed condemned the attack and reminded the government of an earlier resolution passed by the Senate on October 22, 2008 calling for a national counter-terror strategy. He regretted that no step has been taken since to implement the resolution.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.