PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — A pair of bombings in northwest Pakistan targeting individuals involved in this week's national elections killed 17 people on Tuesday, police said, taking the death toll from attacks on candidates and party workers to over 100 since the beginning of April.
In the deadlier of the two attacks, a suicide bomber on a motorcycle detonated his explosives near a vehicle carrying a candidate from a hard-line Islamist party, killing 12 people and wounding 35, police officer Haleem Khan said. It was the second attack on the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party in as many days.
The Taliban have carried out multiple attacks in the run-up to national elections scheduled for May 11. But most of the attacks have targeted secular parties that have opposed the militants and backed the army's attempt to clear them from their sanctuaries in the northwest.
The Islamist candidate who was targeted, Mufti Syed Janan, escaped unharmed, said Khan. The attack occurred as Janan's convoy passed through a market in the town of Doaba in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said Khan. Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan denied any role in the attack.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, in the village of Babagam in Khyber Pakhtunkwa, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying a local leader of a secular party — the Pakistan People's Party, police officer Mohammed Wahid Khan said. The blast killed the leader, Zahir Shah, along with two of his guards and two supporters, Khan said. Shah was in the area campaigning for his brother, who is running for provincial assembly.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for the attack in a phone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location.
The bombings are the latest violence in an increasingly bloody electoral season, which has started to affect not only secular parties but now Islamists as well.
Just a day earlier, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam was hit by another bomb in the northwest Kurram tribal region that left 25 people dead and 70 wounded, said government official Javed Khan. The targeted candidate was not harmed.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack Monday, claiming it was targeting a candidate who had supported military operations against the militants in the northwest. But the spokesman, Ahsan, denied any role in Tuesday's attack on the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam candidate.
The Taliban attacks in the run-up to the election have raised concerns that the violence could benefit parties that take a softer line toward militants, like Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, because there candidates are able to campaign more freely ahead of the vote.
But the Taliban have also condemned democracy as a whole, meaning that any political party taking part in the elections could be considered fair game by the militant group. Militants have called on people in many areas to stay away from the polls on election day.
The Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party is considered supportive of the Afghan Taliban's fight against the United States and its allies in neighboring Afghanistan.
It's also sympathetic to the Pakistani Taliban, which have been fighting Pakistani troops and would like to establish a hardline Islamic government in Pakistan. The group's leaders have generally opposed the Pakistani military's operations against the militants and instead called for negotiating with them.
But that hasn't made the group immune.
In 2011, a suicide bomber struck a convoy in which the party's head, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, was traveling through northwestern Pakistan, killing 12 people.
Khan reported from Timergarah, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Riaz Khan contributed to this report from Peshawar, Pakistan.
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