The death toll from a suicide bombing in Pakistan has risen to 63, officials said, as Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said “Afghan citizens” had been involved in a spate of recent attacks.
The blast on Sunday targeted attendees at a rally for the religious political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazal (JUI-F) in the tribal district of Bajaur, northwestern Pakistan.
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The Pakistani military previously spent years fighting the Pakistani Taliban in the region before declaring the district clear of rebels in 2016.
“So far 63 people have died in the suicide bombing,” Liaquat Ali, a spokesman for the state-run hospital in Bajaur, said on Wednesday.
Another 123 people who were wounded in the attack near the Afghanistan border are being treated, according to a hospital official.
Ali said some of the wounded people were being treated at hospitals in Peshawar, the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Syed Asim Munir visiting those injured in Khaar (Bajaur) suicide blast in CMH Peshawar. pic.twitter.com/x2IREdm58n
— Government of Pakistan (@GovtofPakistan) August 1, 2023
The ISIL (ISIS) armed group claimed responsibility for the attack on a gathering of supporters of JUI-F, which is headed by Maulana Fazlur Rehman.
JUI-F is part of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance, a political coalition affiliated with the government in which Rehman plays a leading role.
Rehman has demanded the arrest of all those who were behind the bombing.
Prime Minister Sharif said attackers behind recent suicide bombings in Pakistan were being helped by “Afghan citizens” across the border.
“The Prime Minister noted with concern the involvement of the Afghan citizens in the suicide blasts,” a statement from Sharif’s office said.
It noted there was “liberty of action available to the elements hostile to Pakistan in planning and executing such cowardly attacks on innocent civilians from the sanctuaries across the border”.
Rise in attacks
Since the Taliban surged back to power in Afghanistan two years ago, Pakistan has witnessed a dramatic uptick in attacks focused in its western border regions.
Taliban authorities have consistently pledged not to let Afghan territory be used by foreign fighters to stage attacks – a key part of the accord that saw United States-led forces leave after a 20-year occupation.
Afghan government spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told the AFP news agency on Wednesday that the Bajaur attack was a “criminal act”. “Such incidents should be prevented where they are happening and being coordinated,” he said.
“The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan is very serious about preventing its soil being used against anyone, and we won’t allow anyone to create a sanctuary here.”
The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or TTP, is a separate group but allied with the Afghan Taliban. TTP has carried out several deadly attacks in Pakistan since last year when it ended a ceasefire with the government. However, it has denounced the Bajaur bombing.
A Taliban attack on an army-run school in Peshawar in 2014 killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren. In January, 74 people were killed in a bombing at a mosque in Peshawar. And in February, more than 100 people, mostly policemen, died in a mosque bombing inside Peshawar police headquarters.