PESHAWAR/ISLAMABAD - A suicide bomber killed 17 innocent people and wounded 30 others at a court in Charsadda district on Monday, in an attack which the Taliban called a ‘revenge’ for the execution of Mumtaz Qadri.

The bomber attacked as lawyers and litigants were arriving at a Sessions Court during the morning rush hour in the town of Shabqadar.

Police and Rescue 1122 sources said that tragic incident occurred at 11:25am when the suicide bomber, aged around 20 and having up to six kilograms (13 pounds) of explosives strapped to his chest, tried to enter the court complex.

When stopped for frisking, he first opened fire at the by police personnel deputed there and then detonated the explosive-laden jacket, killing five policemen, two women, a child and nine adult civilians.

The powerful blast, which came with a huge bang, tore the bodies of victims and flew those yards away from the bombing spot. The bomb also damaged the vehicle parked at the court premises.

Schoolteacher Murid Khan, who was in the complex for a land dispute hearing, said he was getting documents photocopied when he heard gunshots.

“I looked back and there was a huge explosion,” he said, adding the blast threw him over the photocopier. “I heard screams and saw black clouds of smoke, then I fell unconscious” after being hit by two pieces of shrapnel, he said.

Emergency was imposed in the Charsadda district headquarter hospital and Lady Reading Hospital of Peshawar where injured and dead were taken. Moving scenes were witnessed in the emergency ward of the Charsadda hospital where family members were searching for the bodies of their beloved. Security of the hospital was also put on high alert to thwart any follow up blast.

Jamat-ul-Ahrar, a faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the bombing. Group spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said in an emailed statement the bombing “was especially done as vengeance for the hanging of Mumtaz Qadri”.

The terming of attack a revenge for Qadri’s hanging is apparently an effort to confuse and divide Pakistanis, and win back the kind of support they once enjoyed among the religious quarters of the country, according to some analysts.

Mumtaz Qadri, who was part of Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer’s security squad, had killed him for criticising blasphemy laws saying they were being misused and needed to be reformed. His execution last week invoked a strong response, especially from religious quarters most of whom considered it a right thing to kill Taseer.

The TTP and other militant groups waging war against the state have in fact been badly hurt in recent military and intelligence-led operations of the law enforcement agencies. After losing space in north-western tribal areas of the country as a result of the ongoing Zarb-e-Azb operation, most of them are on the run.

But the Charsadda bombing showed that the TTP, while operating from its Afghanistan bastions, still present a serious security challenge to Pakistan.

In a message, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif reiterated his determination to root out the menace of terrorism from the motherland saying the whole nation is standing with the law enforcement agencies in the fight against terror.

He strongly condemned the terrorist attack and extended condolences to the victim families. “The brave police officials who embraced martyrdom in the line of duty sacrificed their today to safeguard a peaceful tomorrow for the future generations, and deserve gratitude and recognition of the highest degree,” he said.

The prime minister further said that the countless sacrifices given by the law enforcement agencies in the fight against terrorism would not go in vain. “The entire nation is determined and united in its commitment to wipe out this menace from our soil.”

Army Chief General Raheel Sharif, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and Governor Iqbal Zafar Jaghra, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari and Co-chairman Asif Ali Zardari as well as leaders of other parties also strongly condemned the bombing, terming it an inhuman act. Governor Iqbal Zafar also visited the Leady Reading Hospital (LRH) of Peshawar where he enquired about the health of the injured.

There were around 300 people in the complex at the time, another police official said. Local bar association president Shair Qadir said they had requested security after receiving threats of an attack, but no action was taken in what he termed a police failure.

Talking to media persons DIG Mardan division Seed Wazir said that that the target of the suicide bomber was the court yard where large number of people and lawyers were present. He said had the bomber entered inside the casualties would have been much higher. He lauded the police personnel who stopped the bomber at the entrance.

Following the bombing heavy contingent of police rushed the blast site and cordoned off the area and the commoners stopped to enter the blast scene aimed to avert any untoward incident. The body parts of the suicide bomber collected for investigation purpose.