PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — A bomb blast tore through a political rally held by an Islamist party in northwest Pakistan Monday, in an attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban that killed 16 people and underscored an increase in violence ahead of the May 11 vote.
The explosion, at a rally held in the village of Sewak in the northwest Kurram tribal area, was the latest attack on candidates, political offices and election-related events as the vote approaches. Much of the violence is believed to have been carried out by the Taliban against three liberal and secular parties. But Monday's blast targeted a gathering of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party which generally has a more favorable relationship with the militant group.
The bomb, which was apparently planted near the main stage of the rally, killed 16 and left 44 wounded, said Umar Khan, a doctor at the nearby Sada hospital where many of the wounded were initially taken.
Two party leaders who were speaking at the event escaped unharmed.
About 2,500 people had gathered at a local religious school to hear the candidates speak, said one man who was in the crowd, Sabir Gul. The massive explosion came just as one of the candidates ended his speech and was leaving the stage, he said.
One of the candidates, Ainuddin Shakir, told a local television station that the bomb appeared to have been detonated by remote control.
Another resident, Mohammad Jamil, attended the meeting with his brother and was in the dining hall eating when the explosion occurred. Political parties often give food to people at rallies who sometimes travel from nearby villages to hear candidates speak. Jamil said people attending the rally had been searched as they went into the gathering.
"There was a deafening sound which stunned me for a while but I quickly moved out of the dining hall," he said, describing a "hell-like" situation. "There were countless people bleeding and crying for help. My brother Khalil was among them."
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party is considered supportive of the Afghan Taliban's fight against the United States and its allies in neighboring Afghanistan. It's also sympathetic to the Pakistani Taliban, which have been fighting Pakistani troops and would like to establish a hardline Islamic government in Pakistan. The group's leaders have generally opposed the Pakistani military's operations against militants in the tribal region and instead called for negotiating with the militants.
The Taliban have claimed responsibility in recent weeks for a string of attacks against secular Pakistani parties that have in general supported military intervention against the militants in the tribal regions.
Claiming responsibility for Monday's bombing, Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan said the attack was aimed at a candidate who had appeared at the rally — Munir Khan Orakzai. Ahsan said Orakzai was targeted because he supported operations against militants in the tribal areas when he was previously an independent parliamentarian.
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