PESHAWAR, Pakistan: At least 11 people were killed and 50 wounded Friday when a car bomb tore through a market in a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s tribal belt, officials said, in an attack claimed by the Taliban.
The military said it was sending a helicopter to evacuate the wounded from Parachinar, capital of Kurram tribal district, as television footage showed shocked bystanders crowding the market square and ambulances edging by.
The attack comes after a wave of militant violence killed 130 people across Pakistan in February, unnerving citizens who had been emboldened by improving security and prompting a military crackdown.
“Eleven people have been killed so far and more than 50 injured,” Shahid Ali Khan, a local administration official, told AFP.
“It was a car bomb, the car was parked in the market but it is not clear yet whether it was a suicide blast,” he said.
Moeen Begum, a surgeon at the local government-run hospital, put the toll at nine and said there were fears it would rise. She also confirmed the number of wounded.
Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), a faction of the umbrella Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, or Pakistani Taliban, swiftly claimed the attack in a message sent to AFP.
The group was also part of the wave of attacks which shook the country in February, claiming responsibility for a suicide bomb in Lahore which killed 14 people.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned Friday’s blast, saying it was a “duty” to seek the “complete annihilation” of terrorism in Pakistan, and ordering assistance for local authorities.
Shiite leaders blamed the “failure of security installations”, according to Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, chief of a Shiite political organization.
“Terrorists crossing dozens of checkposts and carrying out attacks puts a question mark over the progress of security institutions,” he said.
Criticisms and crackdowns
February’s assaults also included a suicide blast at a Sufi shrine in Sindh province which killed 90 people and was claimed by Islamic State.
The wave of violence dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains in its decade-and-a-half long war on militancy, with analysts speaking of a militant resurgence.
Pakistan’s powerful army launched a crackdown and temporarily closed the border with Afghanistan, which it accused of harboring the militants who had carried out the attacks.
Politicians also voted to extend legislation creating secret military courts to try civilians on terror charges. The law had expired in January, with the controversial tribunals having hanged 12 people and ordered the executions of 149 more.
Rights activists have slammed the move, calling it part of a “seriously flawed counter terrorism strategy.”
Parachinar was the location of the first major militant attack in Pakistan in 2017, a bomb in a different market which killed 24 people in January and was also claimed by the Pakistani Taliban.
Kurram is one of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts which are governed according to local laws and customs.
The district is known for sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, who make up roughly 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 200 million. AFP