PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — Three bombings in northwest Pakistan targeting individuals involved in this week's national elections killed 18 people, police said, pushing the death toll from attacks on candidates and party workers to over 100 since the beginning of April.
Two of Tuesday's attacks targeted candidates from Islamist parties, indicating a new trend in the pre-election violence, which had only plagued secular parties before this week.
The Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility for many of the attacks in the run-up to the May 11 election and specifically threatened several secular parties back in March. But the Taliban have also condemned democracy as a whole, meaning any political party taking part in the election could be targeted.
In the deadliest of the three attacks Tuesday, 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 candidate who was targeted, Mufti Syed Janan, escaped unharmed, Khan said. The attack occurred as Janan's convoy passed through a market in the town of Doaba in northwest Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, Khan said. Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan denied any role in the attack.
Also Tuesday, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying Malik Behram Khan, a candidate from the Jamaat-e-Islami party. The candidate and two others survived with injuries, but his young son was killed in the blast in Upper Dir district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, police officer Farooq Jan said. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack.
Elsewhere in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a roadside bomb hit a vehicle carrying a local leader of a secular party — the Pakistan People's Party — in the village of Babagam in Lower Dir district, 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 a seat in the provincial assembly.
Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ahsanullah Ahsan claimed responsibility for that attack in a phone call to The Associated Press from an undisclosed location.
The Taliban also claimed responsibility for Monday's bomb attack on a Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam rally in the northwest Kurram tribal area that left 25 people dead and 70 wounded. The group said it was targeting a candidate who had supported military operations against the militants, but he escaped unharmed.
Ahsan, the Taliban spokesman, denied any role in the attack on the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam candidate on Tuesday.
Before this week, many people had expressed concern that attacks on secular parties could benefit Islamists that take a softer line toward the militants because they could campaign more freely ahead of the vote.
Both the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam and Jamaat-e-Islami parties are considered supportive of the Afghan Taliban's fight against the United States and its allies in neighboring Afghanistan.
They're also sympathetic to the Pakistani Taliban, who have been fighting Pakistani troops and would like to establish a hard-line Islamic government in Pakistan. The parties' 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 groups immune.
In 2011, a suicide bomber struck a convoy in which the head of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam party, Maulana Fazlur Rehman, was traveling through northwestern Pakistan, killing 12 people.
Early Wednesday, a suicide bomber detonated a car packed with explosives outside a police station in the city of Bannu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, killing one person and wounding 14, police officer Rafiq Khan said.
Khan reported from Timergarah, Pakistan. AP writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, and Ijaz Mohammad in Bannu, Pakistan contributed to this report.