Suicide bombing in Pakistan kills 132
Attack takes place as ex-PM returns
ISLAMABAD — At least 132 people were killed and dozens more critically injured Friday, in a bombing at an election campaign rally in a remote region of Pakistan, an attack that hurled the country deep into political chaos.
Officials blamed a suicide bomber for the killings and said the death toll could rise further.
The bombing happened on the day former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif made a dramatic return to Pakistan aboard a commercial plane and was immediately taken into custody along with his daughter on corruption charges.
Critics accused the army of failing to provide security after the bomber blew himself up at the election event in southwestern Pakistan.
Two of Pakistan’s most popular political figures, Mr. Sharif and his daughter Maryam — his political heir — were arrested by anti-corruption police at the airport in the eastern city of Lahore moments after they arrived from London, where Mr. Sharif’s wife is in a hospital receiving treatment for lymphoma.
As hundreds of their supporters confronted antiriot police half a mile from the Lahore airport, the Sharifs were flown aboard a small plane to the capital, Islamabad, where a judge ordered them transferred to prison.
The Sharifs were sentenced last week for failing to disclose the assets the family used to purchase four London apartments, whose ownership was revealed in the leaked Panama Papers in 2016.
Mr. Sharif, who was ordered to serve 10 years in prison, vowed to return to Pakistan to appeal the verdict.
The disclosure of the apartments at London’s posh Avenfield House prompted a furor that led to Mr. Sharif’s removal from office last year.
Hiss party — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz — has described the case against him as politically motivated, arguing that the country’s powerful military establishment is using the pliable courts to punish him for challenging its supremacy while in office.
In a video statement recorded took the Mr. would Airways Sharif United off be from aboard arrested said Arab flight Abu he Emirates, their Dhabi knew before but cast Etihad he in it himself as a defender of democracy.
“I am making this sacrifice for the future of Pakistan,” he said. “Please support me. Let’s change the fate of our country.” Most of the major roads leading to Lahore were sealed on Friday ahead of the Sharifs’ arrival, while thousands of police officers and army rangers deployed to keep a lid on unrest.
Authorities reportedly took several hundred party activists into custody late Thursday.
Still, about 1,000 stonethrowing protesters marched to within about half a mile of the Lahore airport, where police fired tear gas them. canisters Dozens of to police disperse officers and demonstrators suffered minor injuries, authorities said. “We have come out because our leaders have set an example for us,” said Usman Khalifa, a 37-year-old businessman who joined the demonstrations in Lahore. “I am out for Nawaz Sharif, Maryam Nawaz and my future.” Sharif supporters accuse the military establishment of attempting to tilt the playing field to ensure his party does not return to power in July 25 elections. In recent weeks, media outlets critical of army interference in politics have faced a clampdown, and several candidates from Mr. Sharif’s party have suddenly defected in pivotal Punjab province, which includes Lahore.