Islamic State-Khorasan (ISIS-K) has claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing that took place during an election rally in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. The attack targeted a campaign rally of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) party and resulted in the deaths of more than 50 people, including children.
On Monday, ISIS-K released a statement admitting their involvement in the attack, which took place in the town of Khar. The suicide bomber detonated his vest filled with ball bearings near the stage where JUI leader Fazal-ur-Rehman was scheduled to speak. As of Monday evening, the death toll stood at 54, with 23 victims under the age of 18.
This is not the first time ISIS-K has carried out such an attack. They were also behind the suicide bombing that took place at Kabul airport in August 2021 during the American pullout from Afghanistan, which resulted in the deaths of 13 US military personnel and numerous Afghan civilians.
Initially, Pakistani authorities suspected a splinter group of the Taliban, called TPP, to be responsible for the attack. TPP was behind two deadly bombings earlier this year in the provincial capital of Peshawar. One blast in January killed 74 people inside a mosque, while another in February targeted a mosque and claimed the lives of over 100 police officers. TPP was also responsible for the 2014 bombing at a Peshawar school that killed 147 people, mostly schoolchildren.
The Afghan Taliban condemned the attack in Khar, with spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid stating that such crimes cannot be justified in any way. It is important to differentiate between the Afghan Taliban and ISIS-K, as they are two separate militant groups with distinct ideologies and objectives.
The JUI, led by Fazal-ur-Rehman, is part of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s ruling coalition that came to power in April 2022 after ousting former Prime Minister Imran Khan through a no-confidence vote in the National Assembly. Khan, who seeks to return to power in the upcoming general election, has accused Sharif of using politically motivated charges to prevent his candidacy. According to the constitutional requirements, a new election must be held within 60 days of August 13, when the parliament is due to disband.
The suicide bombing at the JUI campaign rally is a tragic incident that highlights the ongoing security challenges faced by Pakistan and the region. The government must take strong measures to ensure the safety of its citizens, particularly during election campaigns, and to prevent further attacks by terrorist organizations like ISIS-K and TPP. International cooperation is also crucial in combating terrorism and promoting peace and stability in the region.