26 die as Senate deputy leader survives bomb attack in Mastung
QUETTA: At least 26 people were killed and 40 others, including Senate Deputy Chairman Maulana Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, suffered injuries in a suicide attack on his convoy in the Mastung area, some 50km from here, on Friday.
The convey was targeted on the Quetta-Karachi National Highway when Maulana Haideri had just left a seminary after attending a graduation ceremony and offering Friday prayers.
The target of the attack was Maulana Haideri — who hails from Kalat — as the suicide bomber rammed the motorcycle he was riding into the vehicle in which the Maulana was travelling, a police official said. Parts of the motorcycle were found at the blast site.
Maulana Haideri is also general secretary of the Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl.
The militant Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attack through a statement posted on the website of its propaganda agency Amaq.
A large number of vehicles and motorcycles, including a police car, were destroyed in the blast that rocked the entire Mastung town, causing panic among the residents.
The deceased included Maulana Hafiz Qudratullah, Naib emir of Quetta district chapter of the JUI-F; Iftikhar Mughal, director staff of the Senate; Maulana Haideri’s driver, Abdul Waheed, an official of the Anti-Terrorism Force; and seven volunteers of the JUI-F who were escorting Maulana Haideri as guards. The victims included Mohammad Adil, Mohammad Imran, Abdul Ghaffar, Zahoor Ahmed and Abdul Karim. Several bodies have not been identified.
A young girl, a child and a Mastung-based journalist, Abdul Hanan, were among the wounded.
The bulletproof vehicle of Maulana Haideri was severely damaged in the explosion. “The Maulana has received minor injuries and has been shifted to the Combined Military Hospital, Quetta,” said Anwar-ul-Haq, the spokesman for the Balochisan government.
“I am alive but have received some injuries,” Maulana Haideri told Dawn by telephone while going to hospital. “Almighty Allah saved my life but I have lost many workers and a leader of my party.”
He said the blast was very powerful and he heard firing after it. “The vehicle in which I was travelling had been destroyed and people sitting with me have been severely injured,” he said.
A witness said the blast took place when Maulana Haideri was moving to the place where lunch was to be served to the guests of the graduation ceremony.
“All of a sudden a massive blast took place near the vehicle in which the deputy chairman of the Senate was sitting,” said Sardar Noor Ahmed Bangulzai, who had also received injuries. “After the blast, the place was engulfed by thick smoke and nothing was visible.
“When atmosphere cleared, I saw bodies lying here and there, even at the distance of 100 feet from the blast site,” he said. “The injured were crying and asking for help.”
Survivors, several covered in blood, were picking up body parts that lay scattered on the road among vehicles twisted by the blast.
Soon after the blast, security forces rushed to the site with rescue workers, who started shifting the injured and the bodies to the District Hospital and the Nawab Ghous Bakhsh Raisani Memorial Hospital in Mastung.
“The two hospitals have received 25 bodies and 35 injured,” Sher Ahmed Satakzai, district health officer of Mastung, said. He feared that the death toll might rise as the condition of at least 10 injured, who were shifted to Civil Hospital Trauma Centre, Quetta, was serious.
Hospital sources said Maulana Haideri had received injuries on his arms, leg and ear.
Officials of the bomb disposal squad, after collecting evidence from the explosion scene, confirmed that it was a suicide attack. “We have reached this conclusion in the light of ball bearings and other evidence found at the site,” an official said, adding that around 10kg of explosives were used for the explosion.
It was not the first suicide attack on the JUI-F leadership. In 2014, the party chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman survived a suicide attack in Quetta when he was returning after addressing a public meeting at Sadiq Shaheed Ground.
Security was beefed up in Quetta and other cities and towns of Balochistan after the attack as more policemen and Frontier Crops soldiers were deployed at different places.
Workers and supporters of the JUI-F blocked Quetta-Karachi highway after the incident. They put boulders on the road and suspended vehicular traffic.
Bazaars and shops closed in Mastung, Kalat and Khuzdar. Activists and supporters of the JUI-F took out protest rallies and marched on the roads.
The JUI-F has called for a general strike in Balochistan on Saturday.
PM condemns attack
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has condemned the attack on the motorcade of Maulana Haideri, expressed concern for his well-being and prayed for his swift recovery, a statement from the PM House said, adds APP.
The prime minister expressed grief and sorrow over the loss of precious lives in the blast and directed the authorities concerned to ensure best medical treatment for the injured.
Mr Sharif also prayed for eternal peace for the departed souls and grant of courage to the bereaved families to bear the irreparable loss.
Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri has also condemned the attack and expressed sorrow over the death of innocent people. He has directed the inspector general of police to submit a report on the incident within 24 hours.
He said that peace, which had been restored with the efforts of security forces and the government, would be maintained at all costs.
The CM talked to Maulana Haideri by telephone from Beijing, where he had gone with the prime minister, and enquired after his health. He announced that the families of the victims who had lost their lives would be given compensation according to the policy of the provincial government.
He directed the officials concerned to provide the best treatment to the injured people.