QUETTA, Pakistan — The deputy leader of Pakistan’s Senate escaped an assassination attempt on Friday when a suicide bomber targeted his convoy in the country’s southwestern Baluchistan province, killing 25 people and wounding dozens more, government officials said.
The Islamic State took responsibility for the attack on its official Amaq News Agency.
The bomber struck soon after Abdul Ghafoor Haideri’s convoy left a madrassa, an Islamic religious school, in the town of Mastung, not far from the provincial capital of Quetta, according to local government official, Munir Raisani.
The area has been a hotbed of militant activity in the past, although most of the previous attacks near Mastung have been on Pakistan’s minority Shiite Muslims by the violent radical Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
However, IS last year carried out a brutal attack against lawyers in Quetta killing nearly 70 people, most of them young lawyers as well as at a shrine in the remote Kuzdar area. There, more than 60 people were killed. The shrine was frequented by both Shiites and Sunnis but it is a particular favorite of Shiites.
Friday’s attack underscored the militants’ continued ability to carry out high-profile attacks despite a protracted military crackdown that’s underway in several parts of the country, including Pakistan’s border regions with neighboring Afghanistan.
Shaken but with only minor cuts and bruises, Haideri told a local news channel that he could not speculate on the reason for the attack.
“I was sitting in the front seat when the strong explosion occurred,” he said. “The windshield of my vehicle broke and the door was destroyed. Broken glass and splinters hit me in the hand but thank God I did not suffer any major injury. …. I can’t say why the blast (happened) or what led to it.”
Haideri’s political party, the pro-Taliban Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam, has hundreds of Islamic Sunni seminaries throughout Baluchistan. It is headed by Fazlur Rehman, who is known for his anti-U.S. stance.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack on Haideri and Anwar-ul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Baluchistan provincial government, said police had been escorting Haideri when the attack occurred.
Several police were among the wounded. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing Haideri’s badly damaged car at the scene of the attack.
Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed, Zarar Khan and Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.