PESHAWAR: As death toll of the suicide bombing that killed Awami National Party leader Barrister Haroon Bilour surged to 21 with 75 others reportedly injured, the ANP declared that despite the attempts being made to corner it, the party would contest the upcoming general elections.
The responsibility for the blast, in which about eight kilograms of TNT explosives were used according to local police, was claimed by the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan talking to reporters at Bilour House termed the assassination an attempt to push his party out of the electoral fray. He announced three-day mourning over the incident that had increased party’s reservations about holding of peaceful, independent and transparent elections. But, he added, the party would not be cowed by such incidents.
The Election Commission of Pakistan, however, postponed the elections in the PK-78 (Peshawar XIII) constituency after the demise of Mr Haroon who was contesting for the provincial assembly seat. The ECP announced that it would be held after the general elections along with by-elections. According to Section 73 of the Election Act, 2017 “If a contesting candidate dies before commencement of the poll or during the polling hours, the Returning Officer shall, by public notice, terminate the proceedings relating to that election.”
“Where the proceedings relating to an election have been terminated due to death of candidate after death, fresh proceedings shall be commenced in accordance with the provisions of this Act, as if for a new election but it shall not be necessary for the other contesting candidates to file fresh nomination papers or make a further deposit under Section 61 of the same Act.”
Meanwhile, the army’s media wing in a tweet stated: “COAS shares grief of Bilour family & ANP on condemnable targeting of Haroon Bilour & victims of heinous terrorist attk.” The tweet also quoted the army chief as saying “We are fighting against nexus of inimical forces which aren’t willing to absorb a peaceful & stable Pakistan. We remain undeterred & shall IA defeat them.”
Earlier, hospital officials confirmed to media that the death toll surged to 21, with one body received at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) while 20 deaths were reported at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH). In all, 62 injured blast victims were brought to the LRH whereas KTH received 13 injured.
According to LRH director Dr Tariq Masud, Mr Haroon had probably hugged the bomber who then detonated his explosive vest as the ANP leader’s body had burnt marks and pellet injuries.
Dr Masud told media that most of the 62 injured victims were discharged after being given treatment while seven of them were still under treatment at the hospital. An official of the KTH said two of the 13 injured persons were admitted at the hospital, while the remaining victims had been discharged after being provided treatment.
FIR, investigation team
The counterterrorism department of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police on Wednesday registered an FIR of the midnight attack. A seven-member team was constituted by Inspector General of Police Mohammad Tahir to investigate the ‘suicide bombing’.
The investigation team, which will be headed by the DIG of the counterterrorism department, has been asked to submit a detailed report of the incident within seven days.
Peshawar police chief Qazi Jamilur Rehman told the media that about eight kilograms of TNT explosives were used in the blast.
A security official said political parties usually did not inform police about their corner meetings; therefore, neither the bomb disposal unit swept the area nor was there additional security. Mr Haroon security retinue comprised two police guards, he added.
He said new SOPs for security were being framed for the protection of the gatherings and election process.
An eyewitness Mohammad Walid, who resided in the same street where the blast took place, suffered injuries on his right hand due to the impact of the blast.
Speaking to media, he said there was no police around when the blast took place during fireworks. He said Mr Haroon was going towards the stage, where his uncle former Senator Ilyas Bilour was sitting, when the bomb went off. He said the blast was so powerful that all those in the street fell down. “Shortly afterwards agonising wails of the victims filled the air,” he said.
Mr Walid said he managed to see the severed head of the suicide bomber who appeared to be a teenager.
Also, mobile phone videos of the incident shared on the social media show the smiling Bilour meeting joyous supporters after coming out of his vehicle just before the explosion. Mr Haroon proceeds to the gated alley from main road amid fireworks. As he reaches in the middle of the street, the gathering is hit by the blast and the whole area is plunged into darkness.
Mr Bilour’s funeral was held at Wazir Bagh late Wednesday afternoon before his burial at his ancestral graveyard. Funeral prayers for 10 victims were offered at the Essakhel mosque and they were buried at the Rehman Baba graveyard. The funeral and burial of other victims were held in different areas earlier during the day.
While volunteers had hosed down the blast site — a narrow gated street of Azeemabad, close to the Yakatut police station — in the early hours of the day, stench of the burnt flesh and blood reeked from the area when the reporter visited it.
Mourners sitting in two rows were receiving those who arrived to offer their condolences, while some children were trying to enter to have a closer look of the street.
The street is at a stone throw distance from the Munda Beri Street where Mr Haroon’s uncle Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour during his previous election campaign had escaped a suicide attack unhurt on April 17, 2013. Fifteen people, including four policemen and a journalist, had died in that explosion.
While talking to reporters at the Bilour House, ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan announced observing three-day mourning over the incident, suspending his party’s ongoing election. He hoped that other political parties would also suspend their election campaign in solidarity with his party.
Mr Khan said the attack was an attempt to keep his party out from the elections. He said this incident had increased their reservations about holding of peaceful, independent and transparent elections but they would not be frightened by such attacks.
Just last week the National Counterterrorism Authority (Nacta) had issued a terror alert, warning of attacks on politicians — mostly belonging to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa — including the ANP chief.
Meanwhile, the situation was reviewed at a meeting chaired by the interim chief minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, retired Justice Dost Mohammad Khan. Official told media that Mr Dost had earlier asked for the repatriation of the provincial chief secretary, police chief, home secretary and Peshawar commissioner.