RIAZ MAYAR/Agencies

MARDAN - A Taliban suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 26 people and wounded over 70 yesterday after crashing into the main gate of a government office in Mardan.

The blast demonstrated the Pakistani Taliban’s continued ability to stage deadly attacks, despite a major military offensive against its headquarters that analysts say has reduced its capacity.

The explosion ripped through the front entrance of a regional branch of the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA).

“At least 26 people have been killed and more than 70 injured,” Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani told AFP. “[The] condition of 11 of them is still critical,” Ghani added.

According to an eyewitness, an unidentified person parked his motorbike near the wall of the Nadra office located in the limits of the city police station on Nisatta Road. The terrorist then tried to enter the Nadra office at the main gate. As security guard Parvez Khan prevented him from entering the office, he opened fired on the guard, killing him on the spot.

On his failure to enter the office, the terrorist blew himself up at the main gate.

District police chief Faisal Shahzad said the suicide bomber was riding a motorbike. “Apparently the target was the queue as there were around 400 people standing there,” Faisal told AFP.

Some of those critically wounded were taken to the main Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.

Television footage showed the collapsed front wall of the building and twisted metal debris strewn on the road in the town.

Eyewitness Nasir Khan, a 29-year-old labourer who suffered a shrapnel injury to his right leg, told AFP: “I was standing in the queue waiting for my turn as I had gone to renew my identity card when I heard someone shouting Allahu Akbar (God is great) and then I fell to the ground.

“The air was filled with smoke and dust and I could not see anything.

“When the dust settled and I stood up, it looked as though someone had butchered the people in the line. There was only blood and flesh in the row where people were previously standing.”

A Nadra employee, Mohammad Tariq, was inside when he heard the huge blast outside the office premises. “We stayed in the office, could not be able to move out,” he said.

Police officials said bomb disposal squad and Rescue 1122 officials shifted the injured to Mardan Medical Complex (MMC), District Headquarters Hospital, where dozens of the injured were in critical condition.

Mardan Deputy Inspector General of Police (DIG) Saeed Khan Wazir, talking to media persons, said body parts of the suicide attacker had been found and sent for forensic examination.

He said around eight to 10kg explosive was used in the attack. He added the suicide attacker exploded his vest when he was stopped by the security guard at the main gate of the office. The DIG said due to the sacrifice of security guard, the suicide attacker failed to enter the Nadra office. He added a large number of applicants were standing in queue in the Nadra office. Had the suicide attacker succeeded in entering the office, the death toll would have been much worse.

Ehsanullah Ehsan, spokesman for the hardline Jamaat-ul-Ahrar faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (Pakistani Taliban), claimed responsibility.

“This office was attacked because it is an important institution of the infidel state of Pakistan,” he said in an email, vowing further attacks.

“God willing, we will target all Pakistani organisations that are either directly or indirectly a part of this war,” Ehsan said in a statement.

Pakistan has been battling an insurgency since 2004 after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan caused fighters to flee across the border, where they began to foment unrest.

More than 27,000 civilians and security personnel have died in attacks since that time, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal, a monitoring site.

But overall levels of extremist-linked violence have dropped dramatically this year, with 2015 on course for the fewest deaths since 2007 - the year the Pakistani Taliban umbrella group was formed.

Analysts have credited the fall to military operations against the Taliban in the tribal areas of North Waziristan and Khyber Agency where they are headquartered, as well as in Karachi.

Authorities have also taken steps to shut down insurgents’ sources of funding and arrested thousands for inciting hatred.

The crackdown came in the aftermath of a Taliban school massacre in December 2014 in which more than 150 people, mainly schoolchildren, were killed.