PESHAWAR — A suicide bomber blew himself up in a crowd of hundreds of mourners attending a funeral in northwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 29 people. Among the dead was a newly elected lawmaker who may have been the target, authorities said.
The blast was the deadliest attack in the region since May 11 national and regional elections installed a new government in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
The carnage poses a challenge for cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, whose party won the provincial election there on a platform of negotiating with the Pakistani Taliban to bring an end to the years of fighting and attacks there.
The bombing in the village of Sher Garh near the city of Mardan killed 29 people and wounded at least 57, said a senior police officer in Mardan, Tahir Ayub Khan.
Pakistani TV channels showed footage of the bombing scene, splashed with blood and scattered body parts, as many of the survivors, their clothes soaked with blood, scrambled to get away. Local residents comforted the families of the victims as they cried out in anguish and beat their chests.
“Are you Muslim?” screamed an eyewitness, Nisar Khan, addressing the attackers. “Are you animals? Are you beasts?”
Many of the wounded were taken to hospitals in the provincial capital of Peshawar, about 65 kilometres (40 miles) away.
Speaking as doctors were examining him, Azeem Khan said a local cleric was leading the funeral prayers when he heard a deafening explosion and was knocked to the ground.
“People were running away for safety,” he said. “Mourners at the funeral were crying for help after the blast.”
Another eyewitness told Pakistan’s Dunya television that 700 to 800 people were attending the funeral when the suicide bomber detonated the device.
The lawmaker, Imran Khan Mohmand, ran in Pakistan’s May 11 elections as an independent candidate and later supported the party of Imran Khan, the ex-cricketer. He was the second provincial lawmaker affiliated with the party to be killed since the election. The other lawmaker, also an independent who later joined Khan’s party, was shot dead earlier this month.
The Pakistani military has been fighting to root out Pakistani Taliban and affiliated militants from the tribal areas, a region that borders Afghanistan. The militants have vowed to overthrow the government and have carried out a campaign of bombings and shootings, mostly in the northwest, that have killed tens of thousands of civilians and security forces in recent years.
Khan campaigned on an anti-American platform in which he blamed the CIA’s drone program and the war in Afghanistan for leading to much of the violence in Pakistan. He also favoured negotiations with the Pakistani Taliban instead of military operations against them, and many of his aides and supporters said the party would not allow Pakistan to be used to ferry supplies to and from NATO troops in Afghanistan.