A suicide bomber targeted a court complex in northwest Pakistan on Monday, killing 17 people and injuring 27 more in an attack that a Taliban faction described as revenge for the execution of governor Salmaan Taseer’s assassin.
The bomber detonated his explosive vest when a security official intercepted him as was trying to enter a district court at Shabqadar in Charsadda district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province.
The bomber, who police said was aged around 20 and had up to six kilograms of explosives strapped to his chest, attacked as lawyers and litigants were arriving at the court during the morning rush hour. There were around 300 people in the complex, a police official said.
The Shabqadar Hospital received 13 bodies and a hospital in Peshawar received four more, media reports said.
The Jamatul Ahrar, a splinter group of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility, saying it was revenge for the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the policeman who assassinated Taseer in 2011.
“We are responsible for the attack on the district court in Shabqadar,” Jamatul Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in a statement sent to media houses.
Local bar association president Shair Qadir said authorities had been requested to provide security after the court complex received threats of an attack but no action was taken.
District police chief Sohail Khalid confirmed it was a suicide attack. Television footage showed widespread damage and the charred remains of at least two vehicles.
Shabqadar, located 150 km northwest of Islamabad, is adjacent to Mohmand tribal region, which has seen several attacks in recent days.
On March 1, a remote-controlled roadside bomb targeted a convoy of vehicles travelling in Mohmand, killing two Pakistani employees of the US consulate in Peshawar.
About two weeks earlier, on Feb 18, Taliban gunmen killed nine paramilitary troopers in two separate attacks in Mohmand. Both earlier attacks were claimed by the Jamatul Ahrar.
In his statement, Ehsan said, “We have not killed civilians. The court and judges were our target as their practices are un-Islamic.” Ehsan said Pakistani courts were a special target because of “their verdicts against Shariah rule and sentencing innocent people”.
The group would target courts and other organisations of the state in the future too, he said.
Qadri was hanged on February 29, and analysts said his execution came as a surprise to many and showed the government was becoming serious about tackling extremism. Qadri’s funeral attracted some 100,000 people, who hailed him as a martyr.