Islamic State jihadists claimed responsibility on Friday for targeting an election rally in Pakistan’s largest province Balochistan, killing an estimated 128, including a provincial seat candidate, and wounding up to 200.
Voice of America (VOA) reports:
Friday’s deadly attack in the Balochistan province has fueled security concerns for heightened country-wide election-related activities ahead of the polls for the national assembly and four provincial legislatures. Witnesses said that Siraj Raisani of the regional Balochistan Awami Party (BAP) was preparing to address hundreds of supporters in the Mastung district when the bomber near the stage detonated explosives strapped to his body. Provincial Home Minister Umar Bangulzai confirmed to VOA that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber. The minister anticipated the death toll was expected to increase further.
The restive Balochistan region, used by the Taliban to stage and carry out attacks in the surrounding area, covers territory in Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan and houses members of the mainly Sunni Baloch community.
Balochistan province makes up nearly half of Pakistan, making it the country’s largest region.
“At least 128 people, including politician Nawabzada Siraj Raisani, were killed and more than 200 injured in a deadly suicide blast in Balochistan’s Mastung district on Friday afternoon, Balochistan Home Minister Agha Umar Bangulzai told [Pakistan’s] DawnNewsTV late evening,” referring to Friday’s attack, Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper notes.
AFP learned from provincial officials that an unidentified jihadi bomber targeted the middle of a compound hosting a political meeting.
The looming July 25 elections have turned out to be a springboard for Islamist radicals and alleged criminals accused of murder and rape, prompting the staunchly Islamic extremist Tehreek Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) to rise to prominence.
Less than a month after the U.S. declared its combat mission in Afghanistan over at the end of 2014, ISIS established a branch in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, home to the largest concentration of jihadist groups in the world, according to the U.S. military.
Known as the Khorasan Province, the ISIS branch got its name from an ancient region that that encompasses large areas of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Iran, India, and other surrounding countries.
Members of the major political parties, including the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-N’s (PML-N) and its primary opponent Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) — led the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan — “face corruption, criminal, rape, dual nationality, money laundering, extortion, loans/bank defaulting, human smuggling and murder charges in Pakistan,” Geo News reported last month.
Having fielded a whopping 395 candidates for the parliamentary elections across Pakistan, TLP-led Islamist hardliner parties have proven to be an admirable opponent to the establishment parties, including those backed by the country’s powerful military.
So far the July 25 election has been marred with violence, according to Dawn.
Although U.S.-led coalition and local forces, including the Russian and Iranian-backed Syrian regime, have nearly annihilated ISIS, destroying its so-called territorial caliphate, the group remains a threat that is seeking to establish a strong foothold outside the Middle East.
“It is pertinent to mention here that the spy chiefs of Russia, Iran, China, and Pakistan had reportedly met on Tuesday in Islamabad over the growing threat to the region from the militant Islamic State in Afghanistan,” notes Dawn.