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‘Mourning in every street’: A Pakistani city, crushed by a suicide bomb

Quetta, Pakistan — Munir Ahmed Baloch greeted a stream of visitors coming to his residence in Mastung, some 50km (31 miles) from the southwest Pakistan city of Quetta, arriving to condole the death of his younger brother Sarfaraz.

On Friday, the brothers were gathered with hundreds of other worshippers outside a local mosque when a suicide bomber blew himself up. The congregation had collected to mark the birthday of Prophet Muhammad.

In an instant, celebration turned to mourning that now envelops the town in the southwestern province of Balochistan. The death toll from the bombing has touched 60, with dozens of others injured and receiving treatment in the provincial capital, Quetta.

Among those who died was 24-year-old Sarfaraz. “I was in the last rows of the congregation but my brother left my hands and moved forward. I can’t explain what I saw after the blast in words,” Munir Ahmed Baloch, 35, told Al Jazeera from Mastung on the telephone.

“Today people are mourning in every street and village of Mastung. We are unable to understand who can do such a dirty act at a sacred religious gathering.”

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack so far. The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) have distanced themselves from the bombing. Yet an unease that has gripped the town refuses to ease up two days later.

The business community in Balochistan province observed a shutter-down strike on Sunday to mourn the victims of the Mastung blast and show solidarity with their families. Shops are closed in Quetta, Mastung and other towns including Khuzdar and Kalat.

“We have given a business-shut call in the entire province to mourn martyrs of the Mastung blast,” Muhammad Yasin Mengal, secretary general of Anjuman e Tajran (Association of Business Community Members) Quetta, told Al Jazeera. “The government needs to be keener toward law and order because the terrorism has destroyed business activities in Balochistan.”

In the village of Khad Kocha, some 8km (5 miles) from Mastung, Zahoor Ahmed was on Sunday mourning the deaths of four members of his family — two brothers and two cousins — who had gone to the mosque dressed in new clothes, but never returned.

“We attend the Eid Milad ul-Nabi celebrations every year to show love for our prophet. But the people who attacked innocent people on this sacred day aren’t Muslims,” Zahoor said. He said he was praying to God to accept the martyrdom of his brothers.

Pakistan has been battling armed groups for the last 15 years, but the South Asian nation has witnessed a dramatic surge in attacks since November 2021 after a fragile peace deal between the government and the TTP broke down.

Earlier this year, more than 100 people were killed in a bomb blast at a mosque situated inside the police quarters in the northwestern city of Peshawar.

Pakistan’s caretaker government, tasked with holding a peaceful election in the country in January 2024, has been struggling to deal with such attacks.

On Saturday, caretaker Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti claimed the government knew who was involved in the Mastung attack, and that those guilty would not be spared. “We will take revenge for the bloodshed of Pakistani citizens with all force and a joint synergy,” Bugti told reporters in Quetta.

The Balochistan government has announced compensation of 1.5 million rupees ($5,184) for victims of the Mastung blast.

But money matters little to families who have lost relatives.

Shahbaz Khan Baloch travelled to Quetta from a remote village, Sharif Abad, on Sunday morning to see injured relatives being treated in the trauma centre of Quetta Civil Hospital. He lost 13 members of his family in the Friday bombing. “The entire village is in mourning because there are many families who lost four or five members in the blast,” he said.

He appealed to the Pakistani government to provide quality health facilities to injured family members — one of whom is in critical condition after he was hit by a splinter in his head.

“We left them with joy to fully participate in the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday celebrations, but minutes after the attack I received a call the congregation was hit by a powerful bombing,” he recalled.

“I ran toward the spot where I only saw blood and bodies lying down on the ground.”

Source: Al Jazeera


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