On 30 July, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a pro-Taliban rally organized by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) in Bajaur district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province (KP). The attack resulted in the death of around 56 civilians (including 23 children) and over 200 were reportedly severely wounded. The incident is being referred to as one of the worst attacks the region has experienced in the recent years.
The attack, which follows months of heavy political unrest as well as an ongoing economic crisis, occurred near a marketplace when speeches were about to commence during the evening hours (local time). More than 1000 people who participated in the rally were from JUI-F. According to Fazal-ur-Rehman, president of JUI-F, the attacker had planned to target over 400 members of his party. Rehman, who was absent from the rally, has previously witnessed and survived over two explosions under similar circumstances in 2011 and 2014.
It should be taken-into-account that JUI-F has had associations with firebrand Islamists and links with the Taliban in Afghanistan however, the party disapproves of the militants attempting to overthrow the government.
As per authorities from the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD), over 10-12 kg of explosives are expected to have been used by the assassin.
In a statement released by KP police officials, the blast happened in the vicinity of the stage where many senior party leaders were sitting. “There was dust and smoke around, and I was under some injured people from where I could hardly stand up, only to see chaos and some scattered limbs,” said a victim, who was knocked to the ground by the impact of the explosion.
Gross negligence on part of the security officials and the government has since been the center of discussion amongst the JUI-F members.
The Pakistan Taliban (TTP) quickly issued a statement via their spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid, clarifying their non-involvement from the attack, stating that “such crimes cannot be justified in any way.” It is worth noting that the Pakistan military had fought with TTP for years in Bajaur before declaring the region militant free in 2016.
By the late evening hours (local time) on 31 July, the mystery on the reason behind the attack was revealed. The Islamic State Khorasan Province (ISKP) claimed responsibility of the attack by publishing the photo of the attacker on its news agency Amaq’s Telegram channel.
“The attack comes in the natural context of the ongoing war waged by the Islamic State against ‘democracy’ as a regime hostile to true Islam and in conflict with its divine law,” the news outlet stated.
ISKP was already assumed as suspect, considering their rivalry with the Afghan branch of TTP. Another possible reason can be their attempts to ‘reflect divisions’ between Islamist groups, according to a statement by TTP sent to the Associated Press. The officials of TTP are of the view that the attack was very carefully planned to cause hostility between Islamist groups and further deteriorate the security situation in KP.
The JUI-F has links to both the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban. As per the Guardian, ISKP on several occasions has vehemently opposed party’s association with the aforementioned groups and criticized JUI-F for ‘betraying its Islamic principles’.
The bombing has been condemned by several countries, namely Saudi Arabia, Russia along with the United States of America.
China via their Foreign Ministry, also expressed its criticism to the attack and extended support to Pakistan towards ‘advancing their counter terrorism’ activities. The incident came hours before the Chinese Vice Premier He Lifeng arrived in Islamabad to participate in an event marking a decade of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).
Considering that Pakistan is expected to hold the National Assembly elections by October, political experts and analysts believe that similar attacks could occur within the coming three months.
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