People carry the casket of Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a senior minister in the… (Mohammad Sajjad / Associated…)
PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- At least eight people, including a senior provincial official on a Taliban hit list, were killed Saturday when a powerful bomb ripped through a narrow street where a political meeting was being held.
Bashir Ahmad Bilour, the minister for local government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, was attending the meeting of the ruling Awami National Party inside a school in Peshawar’s Qissa Qhwani Bazaar neighborhood when the explosion occurred. The blast wounded at least 22 people, gutted nearby shops and destroyed vehicles.
Police have yet to confirm that it was a suicide attack, although witnesses said that parts of the suspected bomber’s body were lying nearby and that he detonated the explosives as the minister neared the meeting site.
[Updated 11:40 a.m. Dec. 22: Police later confirmed that the bombing was a suicide attack.]
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ihsanullah Ihsan said the group claimed responsibility for the attack and would continue to target the Awami National Party, the largest political party in the province.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf announced a nationwide day of mourning as President Asif Ali Zardari expressed shock and grief over the attack.
“Mr. Bashir Bilour fought against militants courageously and sacrificed his life for the noble cause,” Zardari added. “His sacrifice will not go in vain.”
Bilour, who survived two earlier attacks, was seen as an unrelenting voice against terrorism. Friday, just hours before his death, he told journalists: "This is our war. We have to fight it.”
Pakistan has seen a surge in militant attacks this week including a rocket attack on Peshawar airport and the killing in Karachi and Peshawar of at least nine people, several at point-blank range by motorcycle assassins, who were involved in the polio immunization program opposed by militants.
Bilour is the brother of Ghulam Ahmad Bilour, Pakistan’s federal railways minister, who made headlines this year when he announced a $100,000 bounty for anyone who killed the director of the anti-Islam film “Innocence of Muslims.”
Awami National Party spokesman Zahid Khan Peshawar said the attack would not stop the government’s fight against terrorism.
"Terrorists are not humans,” he said. “They want to take the nation toward destruction, Stone Age. These attacks will not discourage us. We will continue to fight them.”
The injured minister was taken to Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital in critical condition before dying of his injuries, said Dr. Arshad Javed, the facility's chief executive.
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Ali reported from Peshawar and Magnier from New Delhi. Nasir Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.