KHAR/PESHAWAR: Forty-three people, including three members of the Levies force, were killed on Saturday and around 100 sustained injuries in a deadly suicide attack reportedly carried out by a young Burqa-wearing woman near the distribution point of the World Food Programme (WFP) in Bajaur Agency’s headquarters, Khar.
The spokesman of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Azam Tariq, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the Salarzai tribe was the target of the suicide bomber. The Salarzai tribesmen, he alleged, had sided with the government and raised an armed Lashkar against the Taliban militants in the area.
However, security officials and tribal sources in Bajaur did not agree with the claim made by the Taliban spokesman.
They said that besides the Salarzais, villagers from Arang and Barang Tehsils and those from Khar subdivision also lost their lives in the bombing. They said those targeted were waiting near a roadside checkpoint for clearance to collect food items at the WFP distribution centre.
The first tribal Lashkar against the militants in Bajaur was raised in the Salarzai area. The militants reacted by sending suicide bombers to attack tribal elders and the Lashkar in Salarzai and for target-killing of its leading figures. The Salarzai Lashkar is believed to be the strongest among all those raised with the government support against the militants in the tribal areas and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Security officials said the female suicide bomber wanted to enter the Civil Colony, the fortified compound housing offices of the political administration and other government functionaries, or carry out an attack on the crowd gathered near the distribution point.
However, personnel of Bajaur Levies stopped her when she tried to cross the checkpoint and head towards the colony or the WFP distribution point.
Military officials felt the bomber got nervous and hurled a hand-grenade at the personnel of Bajaur Levies before she could advance into the Civil Colony or the WFP distribution centre. One soldier was reportedly killed in the grenade attack. There are reports that the Levies personnel fired at her, but she managed to detonate the explosives causing death and destruction at a massive scale.
The attack was so severe that around 35 people lost their lives on the spot while many others sustained injuries and were shifted to the ill-equipped District Headquarters Hospital located nearby in Khar.
Emergency was declared at the hospital and doctors and other staff members on leave due to the public holiday were recalled.
The doctors said all wards and courtyard of the hospital were full of the injured people and the staff tried its best to save lives. Some of the injured were shifted to hospitals in neighbouring Lower Dir district due to lack of facilities and doctors at the public hospital in Khar.
The 57 tribesmen who had sustained serious injures in the blast were sent in Army helicopters to the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in Peshawar.
The LRH Medical Superintendent, Dr Rahim Jan Afridi, told The News that three among the injured people succumbed to their injuries at the hospital. He said about 54 injured people had been admitted to various wards of the hospital, where the condition of some was critical.
“Besides others, a child is in a critical condition and chances of his survival are slim,” said Dr Rahim Jan Afridi.
Those killed included Sher Wali, Fazal Hayan, Sher Alam, Fazal Amin, Jan Bahadur, Rahmat Gul, Imran, Shahzada Khan, Abdur Rahim, Wahab Gul, Mohammad Noor, Mohammad Ghani, Fazal Ahmad, Sultanzeb, Saz Gul, Mohammad Amin, Javed Iqbal, Mohammad Rauf, Khan Zada, Gul Halim, Zamin Khan, Abdur Razzaq, Mohammad Zair, Mohammad Amin Khan and Omar Zaman.
The three Bajaur Levies soldiers killed in the bombing were identified as Havaldar Sadbar, Havaldar Bacha Rahman and Sepoy Ismail. Some of their colleagues were wounded.
Some of the injured men brought to the LRH said they heard a deafening bang when the explosion took place and were unable to figure out as to what had happened. “I had come to receive flour, ghee and other food rations. And then the blast took place and I got injured,” a wounded man said. Another said the bomber was certainly a woman as he heard her female voice. “Her last words were Ya Allah khair,” he said.
It may be recalled that on August 6, 2008, the government had launched a major operation against the local Taliban led by Maulvi Faqir Mohammad. It caused the displacement of 0.5 million tribesmen, forcing them to seek shelter at temporary camps set up in Mardan, Nowshera and Peshawar.
The government later signed a secret peace deal with the local Taliban and reportedly announced general amnesty for those willing to surrender.
Almost on a daily basis, the political administration and paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) officials in Bajaur issue statements to the media on the surrender of militants and their pledge to shun militancy.
The authorities in Bajaur a few days back even reported that the brother of Bajaur Taliban leader Maulvi Faqir Mohammad had surrendered to the government and promised to remain peaceful.
Though militants have been evicted from some places, they continue to pose a threat and the situation outside Khar is still uncertain. Many displaced families from Charmang and Mamond Tehsils are reluctant to return home due to the insecurity. They continue to live in refugee camps despite the tough life there.
Agencies add from Islamabad: President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani and Minister for Defence Chaudhry Ahmed Mukhtar have condemned the suicide attack in Bajaur Agency, which killed innocent people.
In their separate statements, they said the fight against militancy would continue till its logical end.
British junior foreign minister Alistair Burt also condemned the “appalling” suicide bombing attack on a World Food Programme project in Bajaur.
“This appalling attack on innocent refugees is a cruel reminder of the indiscriminate aims of the terrorists and an example of why the world must work together to do all we can to confront a menace without boundaries,” Burt said in a brief statement issued by the Foreign Office in London.