September 2, 2016


[Suicide bomber claims 11 lives at Mardan court, with one community member killed in assault on Christian slum in Peshawar]

By Jon Boone

People inspect site of suicide bomb attack at district court in Mardan on Friday.
Photograph: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images
Militants in north-west Pakistan have killed 12 people in two attacks, on a court building in the city of Mardan and a Christian slum in Peshawar.

At Mardan’s district court on Friday morning, 11 people were killed in a suicide bomb and grenade attack at the entrance of the compound, with about 40 others wounded.

Two police officers and four lawyers were among the dead.

Faisal Shehzad, the district police officer in Mardan, said officers prevented a bigger tragedy by opening fire on the bomber after he threw the grenade.

“One officer near the walkthrough gate stopped the man after becoming suspicious of him,” Shehzad said. “The bomber had 8kg explosives present in his vest but the resistance of our police made the casualty number less.”

Earlier on Friday, about 30 miles (50km) away in the provincial capital of Peshawar, four militants attempted to storm a slum where many of the city’s Christians live.

The assailants killed one member of the community before security guards posted at the entrance of the Christian colony shot dead the attackers.

The army also scrambled a helicopter and launched a house-to-house search looking for other attackers.

Asim Bajwa, an army spokesman, said security forces responded promptly and that four suicide bombers were killed.

Both attacks were claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a militant group that split away from the Pakistani Taliban and briefly pledged allegiance to Islamic State. It often swiftly takes responsibility for such attacks, though some analysts doubt the claims are always authentic.

It claimed responsibility this year for the Easter Sunday bombing of a park in Lahore that killed 71 people, including many Christians.

The legal community has also been the target of Islamist violence claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar. More than 70 people, including scores of lawyers, were killed in August when a bomb ripped through a crowd that had gathered at a hospital in Quetta after one of the city’s most prominent legal professionals was gunned down earlier in the day.

Peshawar has been the site of several attacks on Christians, a tiny and impoverished minority in Muslim-majority Pakistan, including the September 2013 suicide bomb attack on All Saints’ church that killed 85 and wounded more than 100.

The attacks on Friday came despite a two-year long, army-led campaign to wipe out domestic militant groups.

On Thursday, the army lauded itself for its efforts against militancy. In a press conference, General Bajwa claimed the “war on terror” had cost the country more than $100bn and that 3,500 militants had been killed in the last two years.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the attacks were a deliberate rejoinder to Gen Bajwa. “We will carry out more attacks until [Islamic law] is imposed on Pakistan,” he said.

In a statement, the prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, said: “These cowardly attacks cannot shatter our unflinching resolve in our war against terrorism.”

He said militants were “showing frustration by attacking our soft targets”.