85 killed in suicide attack at Pakistan election rally – Health minister
85 killed in suicide attack at Pakistan election rally – Health minister (VIDEO)
More than 1,000 people were attending the rally when it was targeted, according to local police. Friday’s bombing is the deadliest in Pakistan since two bomb blasts ripped apart a marketplace in Parachinar last June, killing almost 100 people.
Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the terror group’s AMAQ news agency. IS militants, as well as Taliban and Al-Qaeda fighters have been active in the region, which borders Afghanistan and Iran.
The blast killed Siraj Raisani, who was running for a seat with the newly-formed Balochistan Awami Party. Raisani died while on the way to a nearby hospital, according to the provincial home minister.
The blast came just hours after a bomb went off at a separate election rally in the northwestern town of Bannu. Four people were killed and 20 more injured as a bomb exploded after candidate Akram Khan Durrani finished making a speech. Durrani is running for Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a political alliance of hardline Islamic groups.
Durrani’s rival, former moderate lawmaker Imran Khan, condemned Friday’s bombing as a conspiracy to sabotage the July 25 vote.
In another suicide attack earlier this week, 23 people were killed at a campaign event organized by the Awami National Party in Peshawar. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which claimed the life of politician Haroon Bilour.
Tensions have been on the rise in Pakistan as polling day draws nearer. Former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is also returning to the country from the UK to face a 10-year jail sentence for corruption. Police have arrested scores of Sharif supporters, who turned out in droves to welcome their former leader at Lahore airport.
Sharif has claimed that his arrest was motivated by “blind revenge”from political rivals. Sharif has been barred from participating in politics and has voiced concern about the vote, asking: “What credibility is now left of the elections? Who will believe the results?”
Sharif’s party, the Pakistan Muslim League, is topping most opinion polls. Sharif has accused his main rival, Khan, of using the military to coerce voters into voting for his party, the Pakistan Movement for Justice. Sharif has been a vocal critic of the military, which he claims runs a “state above a state” in Pakistan.
Pre-election violence is not a new phenomenon in Pakistan. Some 150 people were killed in the six weeks leading up to the last general election in 2013 – an election which saw Sharif become prime minister.