A suicide bomb attack by a Taliban splinter group on a government office in north-west Pakistan has killed more than 20 people queueing for national ID cards.
The bombing on Tuesday, which injured more than 70 others, was claimed by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a group that broke away from the Pakistani Taliban (TTP) in 2014.
There were conflicting accounts of exactly what happened, with police officials in Mardan, a city in the north-west province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, saying a suicide bomber on a motorbike rammed the front gate of an office of the National Database and Registration Authority [Nadra], the agency that issues ID cards.
“It was a hectic working day and many citizens were there in Nadra,” said Saeed Wazir, district police chief, who said investigators believef at least 12kg of explosives was used. “We have recovered the head of an unknown suicide bomber who struck his bike into the main gate of the building.”
However, Nadra official Tariq Khan claimed the suicide bomber had tried to enter the building on foot and then detonated the device after he was intercepted by two security guards who were killed.
The blast caused extensive damage to the front of the building and left body parts scattered around the area.
The local hospital confirmed 23 dead bodies had been received while some of the most critically injured people were referred to a larger facility in Peshawar.
In a media statement, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s spokesman said the office was targeted because it was an institution of the “kafir state of Pakistan” with which the militant group is at war.
The group broke from the TTP last year amid leadership quarrels after the killing of the then chief by a US drone strike. The group was responsible for the deaths of dozens of civilians in November 2014 when it bombed crowds waiting to watch a military ceremony at Wagah, the only official border crossing between Pakistan and India.
It also claimed responsibility for the assassination in August of the home minister of Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.
The Mardan attack was a reminder that militants remain a threat despite a sharp fall in attacks in the past 18 months after a crackdown on domestic terror groups and a military campaign against former TTP havens bordering Afghanistan.