PESHAWAR – ANP central leader Bashir Ahmad Bilour was killed in a suicide attack Saturday evening along with eight others, including his secretary and two police officials.

At least 18 other people were injured when a Taliban bomber blew himself up to hit the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Senior Minister while he was leaving the venue after addressing a public meeting in Peshawar.

Bashir Bilour’s personal secretary Noor Muhammad Khan, SHO Abdul Sattar Khan of Khan Raziq Police Station and chief sentry Abdul Mateen Khan were also killed in this assault in Dhaki Nalbandi area, near Qissa Khwani Bazaar.

The provincial government of secular Awami National Party (ANP), which has been in forefront in the fight against terrorism, announced to fly the national and party flags at half mast on Sunday, besides announcing three-day mourning on the death of the senior leader.

The senior minister, considered the number two to the chief minister of the province, had survived three earlier attempts on his life. But in Saturday’s attack the 69-year-old Bilour suffered severe injuries and died at Peshawar’s Leady Reading Hospital.

Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan claimed responsibility for the attack and said the insurgents would continue to target the ANP. The TTP targeted Bashir Bilour in revenge for the death of one of its elders, he told a foreign news agency.

“We claim responsibility for killing Bashir Bilour. It is revenge for the martyrdom of our elder Sheikh Naseeb Khan,” TTP spokesman said. Sheikh Naseeb was reportedly a teacher at a seminary where many Taliban members were educated. He said that ANP was on their hit-list and people should not attend its public meetings and rallies.

Having been critically injured in the blast, Bashir Bilour was rushed to nearby Lady Reading Hospital. He sustained critical wounds on his chest and stomach. After the news of attack spread, hundreds of party workers and leaders rushed to the hospital, where moving scenes were witnessed when he was pronounced dead.

His elder brother Ghulam Ahmed Bilour told the media Bashir’s funeral arrangements were to be finalised after his sons return. ANP sources later said that the funeral prayer of the deceased will be held at Colonel Sher Khan Army Stadium at 2PM on Sunday (today), and he will be laid to rest in Syed Hassan Pir Badsha Berri Bagh graveyard.

An eyewitness said that the attack happened when Bilour had just left the meeting of party’s city chapter where some 100 ANP workers had gathered and in which some local PPP leaders announced their joining the ANP. Bashir Bilour’s brother, Federal Minister for Railways, Haji Ghulam Ahmad Bilour was the chief guest on the occasion.

Another eyewitness said that there was smoke and dust all around. The suicide bomber was on foot, said a police officer Imtiaz Khan. Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officer Malak Shafqat confirmed that it was a suicide attack, and from 4 to 5 Kilograms of explosive material were used in the explosion. He said that from his remains the suicide bomber appeared to be aged from 18 to 20 years.

Besides the eight people who died in the blast, 18 others including ANP’s workers, police men and passers-by also sustained injuries, and some of them were stated to be in serious condition by hospital staff. It was a huge blast and several nearby buildings and vehicles were also damaged.

President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf strongly condemned the blast and expressed sympathies with the bereaved families. In their statements, they said the terrorists would not succeed in their nefarious designs by indulging in such dastardly acts.

ANP Chief Asfandyar Wali Khan mourned Bilour’s death and said it was a great loss for the country. PML-N leader Nawaz Sharif and MQM leader Altaf Hussain also offered their condolences. Interior Minister Rehman Malik sought a report from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police chief. Information Minister Qamar Zaman Kaira spoke of Bilour’s bravery and commended his efforts in the war against terrorism.

Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, speaking to a private TV channel said, “We live in a Pakistan where Maulana Maududi, Maulana Abdul Haq Haqqani had signed on the constitution. We don’t know who is a sinner and who is on the right.” He added that Bashir never fussed much about security, but he was always accompanied by one or two guards.

KP Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who has also lost his son to terrorism, said he salutes Bashir Bilour. “He sacrificed himself for the country and he fought against militants,” he said, reporting that he and Bashir Bilour used to get 3-4 threats every day.