The deadliest terror attack in over a year has rocked Pakistan as bombs went off at two campaign rallies in different cities. The massive death toll climbed by the hour throughout Friday after a suicide bomber struck a convoy headed to an election-related event in Mastung near the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of Balochistan Province.
Pakistani authorities said 128 were killed and over 150 wounded in a suicide attack reportedly claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS).
Image: China Daily
Some observers have noted that the spot is close to where Pakistani forces had previously claimed to have eliminated an ISIS base in the province.
The attack targeted Siraj Raisani, a Balochistan Awami Party candidate for parliament running in the July 25 general elections, and his supporters. Raisani died as a result of the blast, which came after a motorcycle bomb attack earlier in the day in the northwestern town of Bannu targeted a convoy transporting former Housing and Works Minister Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unharmed. At least four people died in the Bannu attack with at least 32 wounded.
A local hospital official in Mastung said, "we've run out of space in the mortuary" and security officials cited over 271 injured based on incoming casualties. Video footage and photographs showed a grizzly scene with dead and wounded lying nearly on top of each other under a cramped outdoor tent.
120 dead, 200+ injured as #Mastung bleeds. Daesh claims responsibility for this attack on election rally in Balochistan. By next election the Pakistani State will be busy mainstreaming Daesh. pic.twitter.com/FIEgN163xd— Naila Inayat (@nailainayat) July 13, 2018
Thought the region experienced similar attacks in prior years, Friday's attack on a campaign rally was unexpected. Al Jazeera reports:
The BAP's candidate Siraj Raisani was running for election to the provincial assembly in his home district of Mastung, where the attack took place. The area has been the site of several attacks by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) armed group, although those have mostly targeted Shia Muslim pilgrims bound for Iran.
Ethnic Baloch nationalists, who are fighting for independence from Pakistan, have also claimed several attacks on election candidates in the region in recent days.
One local government official condemned the attack as “a conspiracy to sabotage the electoral process in the province,” according to a statement.
Pakistan is currently on edge ahead of July 25th elections, and after a recent spate of election-related bombings and assassinations.
Also significant is that former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was arrested Friday as he arrived at Lahore airport from London. Security forces had put the city on lockdown to prevent planned huge demonstrations by his supporters.
Sharif been given a 10-year prison sentence in absentia last week by a Pakistani court on corruption charges related to several previously undisclosed luxury properties in London, which were funded through offshore companies and holdings in a scandal revealed through the 2016 Panama Papers leak.
Sharif and his daughter Maryam were taken into custody by officials from the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) without incident as they re-entered the country.
His party, the Pakistan Muslim League, has dismissed the proceedings which initially stemmed from Panama Papers revelations as a political witch hunt orchestrated by Pakistan's army to discredit the former PM and his family. Sharif's first two terms ended abruptly under intense military pressure and the second by actual coup.
Pakistan is bracing for more potential violence to come as a result of both Sharif's return and a string of attempted assassinations on political candidates ahead of the late July elections.
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Pakistan's general election summary, according to the BBC:
- Voters will elect candidates for the 342-seat Pakistan National Assembly
- The main parties are Nawaz Sharif's PML-N, former cricketer Imran Khan's PTI and Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's PPP
- It will mark the second time that one civilian government has handed power to another after serving a full term
- The run-up to the vote has been marred by what observers say is a crackdown on political activists, journalists and critics of the powerful military
- More than 371,000 troops will be deployed to protect the election and ensure it is "free and fair", the army says