Pakistanis condemn 'ruthless' Taliban bombing in Parachinar

AFP and Staff

Pakistanis gather at the site of a car bombing in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, March 31. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed at least 22 people in a market. [AFP]

Pakistanis gather at the site of a car bombing in Parachinar, Kurram Agency, March 31. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan faction Jamatul Ahrar claimed responsibility for the blast, which killed at least 22 people in a market. [AFP]

PARACHINAR -- People across Pakistan condemned the car bomb attack that tore through a market in a mainly Shia area of Pakistan's tribal belt Friday (March 31), killing at least 22 people and wounding 57.

Survivors described hiding inside shops after hearing a "huge bang", then stumbling through the dust, tripping over bodies as they searched for the wounded in the busy market in Parachinar, capital of Kurram Agency.

The attack comes after a wave of militant violence killed 130 people across Pakistan in February.

"People were screaming for help... When I looked back everything was filled with dust," shopkeeper Sardar Hussain told AFP.

He said he saw his father "drenched in blood and dust", while two clients were lying dead on the floor.

"I heard a loud bang, and people were screaming," Muhammad Ali, a local resident who was inside a shop when the blast detonated, told AFP.

"We closed the doors ... as we thought there might be a second blast, but we heard gunshots for a while and people were shouting, so we got out."

They emerged to a scene of desperation, Ali said, describing bystanders carrying the wounded to hospitals in any vehicle they could find as security forces arrived.

"We have 22 dead bodies here at the hospital and 57 injured, including women and children," Moeen Begum, a surgeon at the local government-run hospital, told AFP.

Parachinar Assistant Political Agent Shahid Ali Khan confirmed the blast had been a car bomb.

Condemning 'ruthlessness' of militants

Prime Minister Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif condemned the blast, saying it was a "duty" to seek the "complete annihilation" of terrorism in Pakistan. He ordered assistance for local authorities.

"It is against all religions to kill or injure people without any reason," Peshawar-based religious scholar Mufti Karim Hussain told Pakistan Forward. "Militants habitually commit acts of terror on Friday, the holy day."

Hussain denounced militants for their "ruthlessness" in targeting women and children.

Militants falsely invoke the name of Islam to justify their terrorist acts, which is "the greatest sin that they are committing", Maulana Jauhar Ali, a prayer leader in a Peshawar mosque, told Pakistan Forward. "God will never forgive the terrorists."

All Muslims "should stand up against terrorists and foil their attempts to implement their brand of Islam", he said.

Criticism of security 'failure'

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) faction Jamatul Ahrar swiftly claimed responsibility for the attack in a message to AFP.

The group was part of the wave of attacks that shook the country in February, including a suicide bombing in Lahore that killed 14 people.

February's assaults also included a suicide blast at a Sufi shrine in Sindh province which killed 90 people and was claimed by the 'Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant' (ISIL).

The recent uptick in violence dented optimism after the country appeared to be making strong gains against militancy.

The Pakistan army launched a crackdown and temporarily closed the border with Afghanistan, which it accused of harbouring the militants who had carried out the attacks.

However, officials and citizens welcomed the re-opening of the Afghan-Pakistan border was on March 20 as a sign of improved relations between the two countries.

Politicians also voted to extend legislation creating secret military courts to try civilians on terror charges.

Angry Shia leaders and local residents accused security forces of failure, with small protests breaking out in Parachinar immediately following Friday's blast.

"Terrorists crossing dozens of check-posts and carrying out attacks put a question mark on the progress of security institutions," Allama Raja Nasir Abbas, chief of a Shia political organisation, told AFP in Islamabad.

Parachinar was the location of the first major militant attack in Pakistan in 2017, a bomb in a different market that killed 24 people in January. The TTP took responsibility for that attack.

[Ashfaq Yusufzai from Peshawar contributed to this report.]

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