A total of 103 people were killed and over 270 injured in six bomb attacks in the restive Pakistani provinces of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Thursday, marking a sharp spurt in terrorist violence ahead of the country’s next general election.
Terrorists targeted a security forces vehicle and a Shia-majority neighbourhood in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, and a religious congregation in the Swat Valley of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, an erstwhile stronghold of the Taliban.
Sixty-nine people were killed and over 160 injured in the worst attacks, which occurred late in the evening at Alamdar Road and Airport Road in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan.
A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a snooker club on Alamdar Road, which has two Shia prayer halls and a sizeable population of Shia Hazaras.
As media teams and security forces gathered in the area, three more bombs went off within minutes of each other, media reports said.Cameraman Imran Sheikh and reporter Saif-ur-Rehman of Samaa TV channel, two police officers and several rescue workers were among the dead.
Several reporters, cameramen and technicians of news channels were injured.
The first attack of the day also occurred in Quetta, where a powerful bomb went off under a security forces vehicle at the busy Bacha Khan Chowk this afternoon.
Twelve people were killed and over 40 others injured.
The blast was heard from several kilometres away. The roundabout, located near several markets, was crowded at the time of the explosion. Officials at a nearby hospital said two children and a Frontier Corps personnel were among the dead. Several children and security personnel were wounded.
Police said the blast was caused by a timed explosive device planted under the security forces vehicle. An estimated 20 kg of explosives was used in the attack.The blast caused a large crater and destroyed about 10 cars.
Hours later, 22 people were killed and nearly 70 injured in an explosion at a “tablighi markaz” (preaching centre) near Mingora, the main town in Swat Valley, this evening.
The blast occurred in the basement of the centre at Takhta Band Road. Initial reports said the blast was caused by a gas cylinder but police subsequently confirmed the incident was an act of terrorism.
Some reports said the attack was carried out by a teenage suicide bomber though this could not be independently confirmed.
Officials at a hospital in Saidu Sharif town said the dead and injured were hit by ball bearings, which are often used in explosive devices. They confirmed 22 deaths and said several of the injured were in a serious condition.
No group claimed responsibility for any of the attacks. Several militant groups, including the Taliban and Baloch nationalist organisations, are active in Balochistan. The Swat Valley was a stronghold of the local Taliban till the army conducted an operation to flush out militants in early 2009.
Most of the top Taliban commanders of the region escaped to Afghanistan. Pakistan is scheduled to go to the polls sometime in April or May.
Anita Joshua adds
With the sirens of emergency vehicles pealing through a good part of the day and till late in the evening, fear overwhelmed Quetta which is no stranger to terrorist strikes. While the first blast took place in a marketplace, the two other explosions were near Imambargahs. According to the BBC, the United Baloch Army claimed responsibility for the attack on the marketplace that killed over a dozen people.
The dead included a cameraman of a private television network and a senior police official; both of whom had rushed to the scene of the first blast when the second explosion took place nearby. Several other journalists were also injured in the blast.
In Swat, the explosion targeted the Tableeghi Markaz and took place during a weekly meeting of the Tableeghi Jamaat. According to the police, a gathering of over 1000 people were present on the premises at the time as a cleric was preaching. No organisation had claimed responsibility for the attack till late in the evening.