Pakistani police say the twin blasts that struck a counterterrorism facility in the country’s northwest were caused by electrical shorts and not a “terror attack” as initially suggested.
The death toll from Monday’s explosions in the ammunition depot in Kabal town of Swat district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan rose to 17, police said on Tuesday.
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The dead were nine policemen, five detainees and three civilians, local police chief Shafiullah Gandapur said. More than 50 people, mostly police officers, were also wounded when the shorts ignited explosions seconds apart, according to Akhtar Hayat, another provincial police officer.
Initially, police said the explosions could be an act of “terrorism” but an investigation later concluded that short circuits were the cause, a police statement released on Tuesday said.
Nasir Mahmood Satti, a district police chief, also confirmed there was no attack.
Police and government officials attended a collective funeral on Tuesday for the officers killed in the blasts.
The Associated Press news agency’s images from the counterterrorism facility showed destroyed cars and downed trees at the site, which also houses a police station and the headquarters of a reserve police force.
Police said the short circuit in a basement storing “grenades and other explosives” was the cause of the blasts.
“It was like hell let loose on me,” said Abbas Khan, 21, who had parked his car near the police station.
He said a thick cloud of dust and smoke engulfed the entire area, making it difficult to breathe.
The explosion rained pieces of munitions on nearby houses and streets.
“Three hundred kilogrammes [660 pounds] of explosives – including anti-tank and anti-personnel mines, artillery shells and mortars – were stored in the basement in addition to improvised explosive devices and suicide vests that had been recovered from the custody of terrorists,” Khalid Sohail, a senior officer in the local counterterrorism department, told the AFP news agency.
The district of Swat lies at the centre of the picturesque Swat Valley, once the stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban. The military carried out a massive operation there in 2007 and later claimed to have routed the group’s fighters and restored peace. However, attacks have persisted.
The Pakistani Taliban – also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP – said their fighters attacked a security checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar, the provincial capital, on Monday night.
There was no confirmation of any attack from the authorities.
The Pakistani Taliban are separate but allied with the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in Afghanistan for a second time in August 2021. The takeover has emboldened the TTP, which has stepped up its attacks in recent months.
The TTP was founded in 2007 when Pakistani nationals fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan splintered off to focus attacks on Pakistan. They were meant as retaliation for its government supporting the US invasion of the neighbouring country after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 in the United States.