Shadi Khan (Pakistan) – Two suicide attackers on Sunday killed a Pakistani provincial minister who had campaigned against militants along with at least 13 other people after detonating a bomb at a meeting the minister was attending.
“Punjab Home Minister Shuja Khanzada has embraced martyrdom,” said chief rescue official Mohammad Ashfaq.
Khanzada, 71, had been holding a meeting with local people who had come to express their condolences on the death of his cousin.
He was trapped with several others under the rubble after the blast brought down the roof of the building in the village of Shadi Khan in Attock district.
“There were two suicide bombers, one stood outside the boundary wall and the second one went inside and stood in front of the minister,” Mushtaq Sukhera, provincial police chief, told reporters.
“The blast by the bomber standing outside ripped the wall which caused the roof to fall flat on the minister and people gathered there,” he said.
Sukhera added police were investigating whether the attacker inside the building detonated a bomb.
Sukhera said that 14 people were killed and 23 others were wounded in the attack and added that he could not rule out the involvement of banned sectarian militant outfits against whom the government had launched a crackdown.
Nobody immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Khanzada had been active in crackdowns on sectarian militants and Taliban insurgents in Punjab.
Khanzada, a retired army colonel, had been a member of the Punjab assembly since 2002 and an active member of the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz), the party of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
The prime minister, along with President Mamnoon Hussain and army chief General Raheel Sharif condemned the attack and expressed their resolve to fight terrorism.
“Such dastardly coward attempts can’t dent our national resolve to eliminate the menace,” said army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa in a statement.
“Khanzada Shaheed (martyr) was a bold officer whose sacrifice for the greater cause of cleansing Pakistan won’t go to waste.”
Punjab’s government announced a three-day mourning period in the province starting Monday.
Officials said there were up to 40 people in the compound when the suicide attack took place, causing the entire roof slab to fall in one piece — complicating rescue efforts.
A specially-trained team of army rescuers with modern equipment was working with civilian rescuers to lift and cut sections of the fallen roof to reach the victims.
A police spokeswoman said two police officers were also among the dead in the attack, 70 kilometres (43 miles) northwest of Islamabad.
In the past year Pakistani authorities have cracked down hard on the myriad insurgent groups that have plagued the country for a decade.
The offensive intensified after Taliban gunmen slaughtered more than 130 children at a school in the northwest of the country in December.
Last month the leader of an anti-Shiite group behind some of Pakistan’s worst sectarian atrocities was killed in a shootout with police, along with 13 other militants.
Malik Ishaq was shot dead along with fellow Laskhar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) militants, including senior commanders, in Punjab.
LeJ, long seen as close to Al-Qaeda and more recently accused of developing links with the Islamic State group, has a reputation as one of Pakistan’s most ruthless militant groups.