QUETTA: A suicide bomber targeting a political rally of the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) killed at least 128 people and injured over 200, the deadliest in a string of attacks on electioneering that have heightened security fears ahead of the elections.
Among those slain was the candidate for PB-35 (Mastung) Siraj Raisani, whose elder brother Nawab Aslam Raisani had served as the Balochistan chief minister from 2008 to 2013.
“My brother Siraj has been martyred,” said Haji Lashkari Raisani, another brother who is also contesting for a National Assembly seat from the province.
The blast – which was claimed by the militant group Islamic State – ripped through the corner meeting in Dringarh village of Mastung district, some 35km away from the provincial capital making it the deadliest in the country since the 2014 carnage at the Army Public School..
“The death toll has risen to 128,” Balochistan Home Minister Agha Umer Bangulzai told The Express Tribune, adding that there were more than 100 wounded.
“Siraj succumbed to his wounds while he was being shifted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Quetta,” he added.
Provincial Information Minister Malik Khuram Shehzad confirmed the attack was a suicide blast and added that the bomber detonated in the middle of a compound where the political meeting was taking place.
“Siraj was attending the corner meeting in Dringarh, was about to step on to the stage to address party workers when the suicide bomber, disguised as a political worker blew himself up,” Mastung DC Qaim Lashari said.
Emergency workers shuttled victims to nearby vehicles from the bombed-out compound as bystanders sobbed in the darkness owing to the waning electricity in the impoverished area.
Victims in blood-smeared clothes were taken to hospitals in Mastung and Quetta, where they were greeted by tense crowds of mourners. The deceased could be seen covered in shrouds.
According to the bomb disposal squad, up to 15kg of explosive material was used causing a large number of victims as the corner meeting was packed with people.
Condemnations pour in
The brazen attack has widely been condemned with President Mamnoon Hussain, Caretaker Prime Minister Nasirul Mulk, Army Chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, Balochistan chief minister and others terming it a cowardly act.
The army chief expressed his grief over the loss of precious lives in the incident, a tweet of the Director General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor said.
Pakistan has lost a highly devoted and adept politician in Siraj Raisani, the tweet said, adding, that attempts of inimical forces to derail important democratic activity would not succeed. “United we all Pakistanis shall Insha’Allah defeat them.”
Pakistan Tehreek-Insaf chairman Imran Khan spoke out condemning the attack on the political gathering as well as expressing sadness over the martyrdom on Siraj Raisani.
Former foreign minister Hina Rabbani Khar said that “words of sympathy feel hollow as Mastung is washed in blood”.
While the German ambassador Martin Kobler said that he was profoundly shocked and saddened about the news.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families who lost their loved ones,” he added.
Actor Hamza Ali Abbasi posted on social media that the country must defeat this wave of terrorism by holding elections on time with a record turn out.
Rights activist Jibran Nasir said that if we are honest with our sympathy for the lives lost then we must take action against those who spread the extremist ideology.
Nawabzada Siraj Raisani
Siraj was contesting the election from PB-35 (Mastung) and was believed to be at the heart of provincial politics.
He merged his Balochistan Muttihada Mahaz with the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) last month.
Siraj was contesting the polls against his elder brother, Balochistan former chief minister and Chief of Sarawan, Nawab Aslam Raisani.
In the wake of the incident, the BAP has postponed its political rally scheduled which was to be held on Saturday.