The death toll from a suicide bombing at a political rally in north-west Pakistan rose to 45 on Monday, as ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dozens more were injured in the attack, which occurred when an explosive device was detonated at the gathering of supporters of the political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, or JUI-F, in the Bajaur tribal district of Pakistan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Sunday.
ISIS claimed responsibility for the bombing in a message posted on the Telegram messaging app.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police earlier issued a statement saying that an initial investigation had suggested the involvement of ISIS-Khorasan Province, a branch of the group that operates in South Asia and Central Asia.
Shaukat Abbas, an official with the Counter Terrorism Department in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said police were close to finding the culprits behind the bombing but were waiting for forensic reports.
“Ball bearings have been recovered from the bombing scene and it was a suicide bombing. We have also identified the group involved in it. The attack was aimed at a specific target present at the rally,” he said.
A tense calm prevailed in Bajaur on Monday, with markets remaining shuttered in Khar, where the bombing took place.
Assistant Commissioner Khar Mohibullah Yousafzai said the death toll had reached 45 after three more victims succumbed to their injuries. However, Abdul Jaliil Jan, provincial spokesman for JUI-F, said that more than 70 were killed in the blast.
Sajid Khan, a resident of Khar who attended funeral prayers, said there were several bodies that could not be identified as they had been mutilated beyond recognition.
“In some cases, only legs or other body parts were recovered and they had to be identified from shoes; they were buried in the darkness of the night,” he said.
Fazl-e-Ahad, who was injured in the blast, said there was there was a loud bang as soon as former senator Abdul Rashid began to address the gathering.
“Initially, I was in my senses, but within a few moments, my condition worsened and I was shifted to local hospital in Bajaur, where I witnessed chaos,” he said.
Maulvi Roohullah told The National that he lost four relatives in the attack including his brother, who left behind six children; his two nephews, who left behind three children each, and a cousin who had four children.
“This is inhuman. Till how long will we suffer like this?” he said. “The authorities of this country must bring such incidents to a full stop.”
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, a hardline militant group that has become more active since the Afghan Taliban regained power across the border in 2021, denied involvement in the bombing in Bajaur as well as a bombing at a mosque in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Khyber district last week that killed a police officer.
A security official told The National that ISIS had been weakened in Afghanistan after the Taliban there came to power and that many of its fighters had joined hands with the TTP.
The TTP has in the past claimed attacks on members of the JUI-F, which is a part of Pakistan's ruling coalition.
Party leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman has frequently denounced attacks by the group, saying that their “jihad” was against the law as well as against Islamic principles. He has also pushed the TTP and similar groups to seek power through the political process.
He had, however, voiced support for the Afghan Taliban's insurgency against the western-backed government in Kabul.