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MASTUNG, PAKISTAN - 29 SEPTEMBER: Injured citizens are brought to hospital after the attack at a procession to celebrate Eid-e-Milad an-Nabi, the birthday of Prophet Muhammad, near a mosque in Mastung district of southwestern province of Balochistan, Pakistan, on September 29, 2023. At least 52 people, including a police officer, were killed in the first attack. Those injured in the blast were taken to nearby hospitals, with many in critical condition. (Photo by Mazhar Chandio/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Suicide Bombings Disturb Celebrations in Pakistan in Latest String of Violent Attacks

Suicide bombers killed at least 57 people and injured nearly 77 others in explosions on Friday in Pakistan during celebrations of the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

Friday’s blast in Mastung, a district of the Balochistan province in southwestern Pakistan, occurred outside a mosque and killed nearly 52 people and injured 70 others. No terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, which is the deadliest assault on civilians in the region in months, the Associated Press reported.

Senior police official Nawaz Gishkori was killed in the explosion. In an interview with The Guardian, Local Deputy Commissioner for Mastung Razzaq Sasoli said the bomber blew himself up next to Gishkori’s vehicle.

“TV footage and videos on social media showed an open area near a mosque strewn with the shoes of the dead and wounded after the bombing,” according to The Guardian. “Bodies had been covered with sheets, and residents and rescuers were seen rushing the wounded to hospitals, where a state of emergency was declared and appeals were issued for blood donations.”

A separate bombing on Friday in Hangu, located in the northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, killed at least five people and wounded seven at a mosque in a police station, according to Shah Raz Khan, a local police officer who spoke to the AP. The attack was carried out by two suicide bombers.

The bombings occurred just days after police were instructed to remain at their highest alert level due to threats to celebrations for the Prophet’s birthday, which are known as Mawlid an-Nabi or Eid-e-Milad an-Nabi. Many Muslims celebrate the holiday, but Harvard’s Pluralism Project explains that some Muslims do not observe the celebration because of feelings that it emphasizes the Prophet as a human.

“The Pakistani Taliban, the country’s main militant group, denied any role in either attack, and denounced them,” the AP reports. “Known as Tehreek-e-Taliban, or TTP, the Pakistani Taliban has waged a campaign of violence that usually hits government or security targets, and it has repeatedly said it does not target places of worship or civilians.”

Some terrorism experts suspect that Friday’s bombings may be connected to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant.

“However, what must be remembered is that the Islamic State Khorasan province operates primarily out of the Peshawar region in Pakistan, or Afghanistan, while the Islamic State Pakistan province is based out of Balochistan,” said Amir Rana, director of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies, in an interview with Al Jazeera.

Militant groups have become more active in Pakistan since the Taliban re-seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in 2021.

In February 2023, for instance, a suicide bomber disguised as a police officer killed more than 100 people after gaining access to a high security area in Peshawar, Pakistan. In July, the Islamic State-Khorasan Province (IKSP) bombed an election rally for a right-wing Pakistani political party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI) that killed at least 40 people.

“Today’s incident in Mastung constitutes a major security failure,” said Abdul Basit, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies who spoke to The New York Times. He added that it is “a clear manifestation of how Pakistan’s internal security has become intertwined with developments in Afghanistan.”

In a security alert, Crisis24 said strict security measures are likely to remain in place following Friday’s explosions and that authorities may impose localized travel restrictions or curfews.

The additional security measures would coincide with weekend plans for Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PMLN) rallies, which were planned for 1-8 October ahead of the return of former Prime Minister and party leader Nawaz Sharif.

The former Pakistani leader stepped down in 2017 after being convicted of corruption and left Pakistan—with permission of then Prime Minister Imran Khan—to seek medical treatment. He has been living in London since 2019 in self-imposed exile and is considered a fugitive from justice. If he returns to Pakistan, he could be arrested.

Crisis24’s security alert explains that if Sharif returns, he is expected to position himself as a key figure to lead the PMLN in the upcoming general election in January 2024. The party had made initial plans to hold rallies ahead of his return on 21 October.

“Heightened security measures are likely near any gatherings that materialize. Typical security measures include increased security deployment and road closures,” Crisis24 explained. “Clashes between police and PMLN supporters cannot be ruled out. Transport disruptions are possible if participants march on or block roadways. Associated localized business disruptions are possible.”