KHAR, Pakistan — A powerful bomb ripped through a rally by supporters of a hard-line cleric and political leader in the country’s northwestern Bajur district that borders Afghanistan on Sunday, police and health officials said. At least 55 people were killed and 135 were wounded in what one official said was a suicide attack.
Senior police officer Nazir Khan told NBC News that a religious political party run by Maulana Fazlur Rehman, Jamiat Ulema Islam party, had organized a workers’ convention in Khar town of Bajur tribal district on Sunday where the explosion took place.
While Khan said earlier there was “no information about nature of the blast,” Jan said it was a suicide attack.
Azam Khan, head of the emergency room at Khar’s main hospital, previously said 35 bodies were brought to the hospital and some were taken back by relatives while the number of wounded was more than 100 as those who earlier went to near small clinics for medical aid consequently brought to the main government hospital.
The number of dead and injured ticked up throughout the day. Jalil Jan, a spokesperson for the political party, told NBC News the death toll had risen to 55 and that some of the 135 injuries were critical.
Government administrator Mohibullah Khan Yousufzai also previously said death toll rose to 35 and the number of wounded was well over 100. He said the serious wounded people were being airlifted to provincial capital, Peshawar, for better medical care.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack but the Islamic State group operates across the border in Afghanistan.
Maulana Ziaullah, the local chief of Rehman’s party, was among the dead. Senator Abdur Rasheed and former lawmaker Maulana Jamaluddin was also on the stage but escaped unhurt. Party officials said Rehman was not in the rally.
Rehman is considered to be a pro-Taliban cleric and his political party is part of the coalition government in Islamabad. It is not known whether Rehman was present. Meetings are being organized across the country to mobilize supporters for the coming elections.
Bajur, once used to be a tribal region but now a district, has been a safe haven for Islamic militants until recent years when Pakistani military carried out massive operations to eliminate militancy from the tribal region. Militants still strike attacking security forces and civilians often.
A statement from Zabihullah Mujahid, the spokesperson of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, said officials “condemn” the blast.
“The Islamic Emirate expresses deep condolences to the affected families,” adding that officials pray for the “martyrs” to go to Islamic heaven and “for the speedy recovery of the injured.”
“Such crimes are in no way justified or acceptable,” Mujahid said.