A devastating explosion occurred during a gathering celebrating the birthday of Prophet Muhammad in the southwestern region of Pakistan on Friday, resulting in a tragic loss of at least 52 lives and leaving nearly 70 individuals wounded. This attack ranks as one of the deadliest incidents targeting civilians in Pakistan in recent months.
The blast took place in Mastung, a district located in Baluchistan province, and left an open area near a mosque strewn with the shoes of victims. The aftermath, captured on TV footage and social media videos, revealed bodies covered with bedsheets while residents and rescuers rushed the injured to nearby hospitals.
The responsibility for this attack remains unclaimed at the moment, but suspicions point toward the regional affiliate of the militant Islamic State group, which has previously claimed responsibility for fatal bombings in Pakistan. Notably, IS had executed an attack in the same area just days before, following the killing of one of its commanders.
Approximately 500 individuals had assembled for a procession from the mosque to commemorate the birth of the Prophet, a celebration known as Mawlid an-Nabi. Similar events were taking place across Pakistan, often featuring parades involving children in traditional attire. Tragically, the explosion occurred just before the Mastung procession was set to begin.
Hospital visits revealed a number of young boys among the wounded, some of whom were in critical condition. A total of 30 bodies were taken to one hospital, with an additional 22 confirmed at another, according to Abdul Rasheed, the district health officer in Mastung. Regrettably, a senior police officer, Mohammad Nawaz, was among the casualties, leading investigators to suspect a suicide bomber was responsible for the attack.
In anticipation of potential threats, authorities had recently placed the police on high alert, citing the possibility of militant attacks during Mawlid an-Nabi rallies.
In a separate incident on the same day, a blast rocked a mosque situated within a police station premises in Hangu, a district in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The explosion resulted in at least five fatalities and seven injuries. According to local police officer Shah Raz Khan, two suicide bombers approached the mud-brick mosque, and while one was shot and killed by guards, the other managed to reach the mosque and detonate his explosives. The mosque, which housed about 40 worshippers, including many police officers, collapsed as a result.
As of now, no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Mastung and Hangu. The Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP), the country’s primary militant group, has denied involvement in these incidents, reiterating their stance of not targeting places of worship or civilians. The TTP is distinct from the Afghan Taliban but maintains close ties to them and has escalated its attacks since the Afghan Taliban’s rise to power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021.
The suspicion primarily centers on the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, the IS affiliate operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan, which has displayed a greater propensity for attacking civilians and places of worship, including both Shiite and Sunni mosques.
The region of Baluchistan, situated at the crossroads of Afghanistan and Iran and known for its abundant gas reserves, has endured a prolonged insurgency by Baluch nationalists for over two decades. Initially seeking a share of provincial resources, these nationalists later escalated their demands for independence.
Pakistan has faced a series of militant violence episodes over the years, perpetrated by various groups. In 2014, a horrific attack by the Taliban on an army-run school in Peshawar claimed the lives of 147 individuals, primarily schoolchildren.
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In recent times, the Pakistani Taliban has emerged as a formidable force, suspected of orchestrating the deadliest attack this year, in which over 100 people lost their lives in a bombing on January 30 at a mosque within a high-security compound housing Peshawar’s police headquarters.