UPDATE - 35 killed, hundreds injured as blast rips through rally preparations in northwestern Pakistan

UPDATE - 35 killed, hundreds injured as blast rips through rally preparations in northwestern Pakistan

Explosion took place ahead of ruling coalition partner's public rally in tribal Bajuar district, near Afghan border

UPDATES DEATH TOLL AND FURTHER DETAILS, CHANGES LEDE

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) - At least 35 people were killed and hundreds injured in an explosion ahead of a public rally in northwestern Pakistan on Sunday evening, police and local media reported.

The explosion took place at around 5 p.m. local time (1200GMT), an hour before the event was scheduled to begin in the tribal Bajaur district, located near the border with Afghanistan, police said.

The rally had been organized by the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), a coalition partner in the federal government.

Provincial Information Minister Feroz Jamal told reporters that over 35 people have been killed and over 200 injured, including 15 injured who succumbed to their injuries at the hospital, said emergency officials.

Health officials fear the death toll could rise as several of the injured are in critical condition.

The dead included local JUI chief Maulana Ziaullah. A cameraman from local broadcaster Geo News was also critically injured, the channel said.

Helicopters have been sent to lift the critically injured to the provincial capital Peshawar and other hospitals. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the incident, directing the security forces to go "all out" to bring the terrorists involved in the blast to justice.

Footage aired on local broadcaster Samaa News showed JUI members and rescue workers carrying bodies and the injured to ambulances as plumes of smoke billowed upward.

Another clip showed honking ambulances rushing the bodies and injured to the hospital, while several injured were being carried by JUI workers to health facilities.


- Rising tide of attacks

No immediate details were provided on the cause of the blast, the fourth in less than three weeks in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkwa province.

Hafiz Hamdullah, a senator from the JUI, said party members were making arrangements for the rally when the explosion occurred.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, one of the deadliest in recent years.

The JUI has long been a target of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), a conglomerate of several militant groups in the country, for opposing suicide bombings and terrorist attacks on Pakistani security forces.

JUI chief and former opposition leader Maulana Fazl-ur-Rehman escaped two suspected suicide attacks in 2011 and 2014.

Pakistan has seen an uptick in terrorist attacks since the Taliban stormed back into power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021.

Islamabad accuses "Afghan-based" TTP militants of being behind the attacks, a charge Kabul denies.

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