ISLAMABAD (TIP): At least 23 people were killed and nearly 120 injured when a powerful bomb went off at a crowded marketplace in Islamabad early on April 2. The deadliest bombing occurred at a wholesale fruit and vegetable market of Pakistan’s capital on the edge of its twin city, Rawalpindi.
It came two days before the expiry of the extended unilateral ceasefire announced by Pakistani Taliban as part of a shaky peace talks with the government. The attack was claimed by United Baloch Army, a little known militant group seeking separation from the Pakistani state. “We carried out the attack in reaction to the continuous military offensives against us in our homeland,” said an outfit’s spokesman.
Eyewitnesses said the blast sent boxes of fruit and vegetables flying and left a deep crater at the site. Police cordoned off the area and started search operation. “It was an act of terrorism,” said a police office, adding that the explosives were planted in a box of fruit and may have been detonated remotely. The dead and wounded were rushed to nearby hospitals in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
“So far, we received 19 dead and 54 injured in the hospital,” said Dr Aisha Eisani, the spokeswoman for the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS) in Islamabad. “Almost all the injured and deceased are adult males, with many exhibiting head injuries. The bodies have been shifted to the mortuary and preserved,” she added. Dr Javed Akram, vice chancellor of PIMS, said nine of the injured at his facility were in critical condition. “At least 11 bodies were beyond recognition,” he added.
“Around 2,000 people were at the market at the time of the blast,” said IGP, Islamabad, Khalid Khattak. “Explosives weighing up to 5 kg were used in the attack,” he added. The police chief said it was not humanly possible to check every individual who visited the market. No group claimed responsibility for the bombing and the Pakistani Taliban in a statement denied responsibility for the attack. In an email statement sent to reporters, Shahidullah Shahid, Pakistani Taliban spokesman, said, “It’s tragic that innocents have been killed in attacks on public places. Such attacks are ‘haram’ (unlawful).”
Shahidullah claimed hidden elements were responsible for the recent acts of violence in Islamabad and Baluchistan. “The TTP remains committed to its ceasefire,” he said. However, inside sources revealed there was intense rivalry within the ranks of TTP over the issue of the ongoing talks with the government.
The group opposing talks associates itself with slain Taliban chief Hakimullah Mehsud while the pro-dialogue group is represented by Khan Said Sajna, a senior Taliban commander considered one of the top contenders for the post of TTP chief after the death of Hakimullah Mehsud. Sources said during recent meetings of Taliban Shura (decision making body), commanders of Hakimullah group, including Umar Khalid Khurassani, the head of TTP in Mohmand Agency and his close comrade Sajjad Mohmand, stressed on calling off the ceasefire and resumption of violent attacks, the demands which were opposed by Sajna group.