Suicide bomber targets vaccination centre in Pakistan

A volunteer collects the belongings of victims of the bomb blast. Policemen had gathered to accompany workers for a polio vaccination campaign in Quetta.
A volunteer collects the belongings of victims of the bomb blast. Policemen had gathered to accompany workers for a polio vaccination campaign in Quetta.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Taleban-linked group claims responsibility in attack that kills at least 15, mainly policemen

QUETTA (Pakistan) • A suicide bomber blew himself up outside a polio vaccination centre in the south-western city of Quetta yesterday, killing at least 15 people, mainly policemen, officials said.

The policemen had gathered outside the centre to accompany workers on the third day of a polio vaccination campaign in the violence-racked province of Balochistan, of which Quetta is the capital. Polio vaccination teams are frequently targeted by militant attacks in Pakistan.

"There are 15 dead, including 12 police, one paramilitary, and two civilians," a local police official said.

Mr Sarfaraz Bugti, Balochistan Home Minister, added: "So far 15 people have been injured in the blast, seven of whom are in critical condition."

Militant group Jundullah, which has links with the Pakistani Taleban and has pledged allegiance to Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, claimed responsibility for the attack.

An Agence France-Presse reporter at the site saw three burnt-out vehicles. Human remains lay strewn across the ground, walls and electric poles along with items of clothing, including the caps and shoes of policemen.

Eye-witness Shabir Ahmed, a 32-year-old police constable, said he had been deployed to protect a polio vaccination team that was due to leave for various neighbourhoods of Quetta at 10am.

"Suddenly there was a loud bang and I fell to the ground; I could not see anything, there was dust everywhere," he said.

"Then I heard people screaming and sirens of ambulances," he continued, adding he had shrapnel wounds on his stomach, hands, legs and feet.

Pakistan is one of only two countries where polio, a crippling childhood disease, remains endemic. The other country is Afghanistan.

Attempts to eradicate polio in Pakistan have been badly hit by militant attacks on immunisation teams that have claimed nearly 80 lives since December 2012.

Islamist groups, including the Taleban, say the polio vaccination drive is a front for espionage or a conspiracy to sterilise Muslims.

In 2014, the number of polio cases recorded in Pakistan soared to 306, the highest in 14 years.

Islamist opposition to all forms of inoculation mounted after the CIA organised a fake vaccination drive to track down and kill Al-Qaeda's former leader, Osama bin Laden, in the Pakistani garrison town of Abbottabad.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 14, 2016, with the headline 'Suicide bomber targets vaccination centre in Pakistan'. Print Edition | Subscribe