At least 44 people were martyred while over 100 were wounded in a suicide blast at a Jamiat Ulema Islam-Fazl (JUI-F) workers’ convention in Bajaur tribal district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa on Sunday. The explosion occurred when around 500 JUI-F members and supporters gathered under a tent in Khar, the main town of Bajaur. KP Health Minister Riaz Anwar told a foreign news agency that 44 people had been confirmed dead and over 100 wounded. “It was a suicide attack, with the bomber detonating himself in close proximity to the stage,” he added. Footage of the site after the blast showed panic-stricken people gathering as ambulances arrived to move the injured to hospitals. Afterwards, a large police contingent cordoned off the area. KP caretaker Information Minister Firoz Shah said hospitals across Bajaur and neighbouring areas had been put on high alert. “Our utmost priority right now is to provide medical treatment to the injured. The blast site has been cordoned off. Pakistan Army and other institutions are assisting us in the operation,” Jamal added. According to national media, the bomber was present inside a hall where the JUI-F convention was underway near the Dubai Mor area. The Army choppers also started a relief operation by airlifting the injured person to Combined Military Hospital (CMH) Peshawar, Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) and Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) Hospital, which are kept on emergency. The Army choppers were used to airlift the injured from district headquarters Khar to Peshawar. Rescue operations are underway by security forces and other law enforcement agencies as well. The area was cordoned off and the investigation was started. Security forces continue to donate blood to the injured, a doctor at Bajaur Hospital told the state-run news agency. Maulana Ziaullah, the emir of the JUI-F party in Tehsil Khar, also died in the explosion. “I condemn the blast in the strongest words. I want to send a message to those responsible: If you call this jihad, you are mistaken. This is fasaad and outright terrorism. This is an attack on humanity, the state and region of Bajaur. This is not Islam, but a grave injustice against Islam and its followers,” JUI-F senior leader Hafiz Hamdullah told a local news channel. The JUI-F leader demanded that state authorities investigate the attack, and the government use all means possible to provide treatment to the injured and relief to the affected families. In a statement, KP caretaker Chief Minister Azam Khan sought a detailed report on the blast from police and directed authorities to provide the best medical treatment to the injured. Governor Haji Ghulam Ali also said in a statement that a helicopter had been sent to Bajaur for the transfer of wounded people. No one has claimed responsibility for the blast yet. Later, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif held a telephonic call with JUI-F chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman and Communications Minister Maulana Asad Mahmood. He expressed grief and condolence over the blast and regretted the loss of precious lives. “We are equal participants in your grief,” he said. “The criminals will be truly punished and bringing an end to terrorism is the commitment of the entire nation.” Moreover, PM Shehbaz extended heartfelt sympathies to the bereaved families. He prayed for the elevation of the ranks of the martyrs, patience for their families, and speedy recovery of the injured persons. Separately, the premier also held a telephone conversation with KP’s chief secretary and IG police. He directed the officials to provide the best medical facilities to the injured. PM Shehbaz also instructed that the critically injured persons be transferred to other hospitals on a helicopter. Furthermore, he ordered an investigation into the incident and vowed to take strict action against the elements involved. The JUI-F chief, in a statement issued by the party’s media cell, expressed grief over the incident. He sought a high-level inquiry into the attack from Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and the KP government. “May Allah raise the ranks of martyrs,” Fazl said and prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured. He also appealed to JUI-F workers to immediately reach hospitals and provide blood donations. PM Shehbaz strongly condemned the blast at the JUI-F convention. He said terrorists targeted those who advocated the cause of Islam, the Holy Quran and Pakistan. “Terrorists are enemies of Pakistan and they will be eliminated,” he asserted in a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office, adding that elements involved in the incident would be meted out strict punishment. He also sought a report of the incident from Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Later in a tweet, PM Shehbaz said attacks on political parties showed that the enemies were against Pakistan’s democratic system. “Those responsible will be identified and punished. The Pakistani nation, law enforcement agencies and our protectors will never allow such cowardly tactics of the enemy to succeed. The entire nation, including me, is an equal participant in the grief of the families of those who were martyred in the incident,” he added. Meanwhile, President Arif Alvi prayed for eternal peace for the departed souls and commiserated with the bereaved families. He also wished speedy recovery for the injured and emphasised the timely provision of medical assistance to them. In a tweet, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah vowed to bring the perpetrators of today’s attack to justice. “The cowardly acts of terrorists cannot dampen our spirits.” In a statement on the PPP Media Cell, Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari condemned the blast and extended condolences to the bereaved.