QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — The Islamic State group said it carried out a brazen suicide attack on a Pakistani lawmaker in southwest Baluchistan province on Friday that killed 25 people despite a protracted crackdown on the assortment of militant groups operating in Pakistan.
Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, deputy leader of Pakistan's Senate or Upper House of Parliament, was only slightly wounded in the attack that occurred as his convoy left a girls-only Islamic seminary, where he had attended a graduation ceremony.
"There was a big bang and we couldn't understand what had happened," said Haji Abdul Hadi, a witness who was hit with flying debris.
The attack by IS may have been a warning to Haideri's hardline Jamiat-e-Ulema Islam (JUI) against participating in the country's democratically elected government, said Zahid Hussain, an expert on militancy in Pakistan. JUI is a partner in Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's government.
"It is a message to them that anyone who goes with the government will be targeted," he said, adding that it could also be that the IS targeted Haideri because of his party's close alliance with Afghanistan's Taliban.
Many of Afghanistan's Taliban leaders studied at Islamic seminaries operated by Haideri's JUI and in Afghanistan the Islamic State group is battling the Taliban, who have warned their followers against joining the group.
Fazl-ur Rahman, the head of JUI, who was twice the target of assassination attempts, did not name the IS but told reporters in the capital Islamabad that the attack was carried out by "anti-state elements who want to bring their own brand of Islam to Pakistan. ... We have opted for the path of democracy and the constitution and we will stay the course."
Friday's attack on Haideri was the first time that one radical Sunni religious group has waged war on another, said Hussain, warning it does not bode well for peace, particularly in southwest Baluchistan province "where state control is the weakest."
He said it also reflects the government's inability to come up with a solid plan of attack against the many militant groups operating in Pakistan.
"We don't have any clear planning or strategy to deal with extremist groups," he said.
Pakistan has been criticized for being selective in the militant groups it chooses to attack, ignoring those who wage war on neighbor India, against whom it has fought three wars and maintains a decades old dispute over the Himalayan state of Kashmir. Pakistan has also been accused of providing sanctuaries to Afghanistan's Taliban, a charge it denies. Pakistan, meanwhile, has accused Kabul of harboring anti-Pakistan insurgents, who slip across the porous border separating the two countries to carry out attacks like Friday's against Haideri.
The town of Mastung where Haideri was targeted is a stronghold of the violent radical Sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has openly supported the Islamic State group. Security officials have previously warned that members, with their ferocious loathing of Shiite Muslims, were ripe for recruitment by IS.
IS took responsibility for Friday's attack on its official Amaq News Agency.
It was the third major attack by the IS in Baluchistan. Last year, the militants carried out a brutal attack against lawyers in Quetta killing nearly 70 people, most of them young lawyers, as well as at a shrine in the remote Kuzdar area. There, more than 60 people were killed. The shrine was frequented by both Shiites and Sunnis but it is a particular favorite of Shiites.
Shaken but with only minor cuts and bruises, Haideri told a local news channel that he could not speculate on the reason for the attack.
"I was sitting in the front seat when the strong explosion occurred," he said. "The windshield of my vehicle broke and the door was destroyed. Broken glass and splinters hit me in the hand but thank God I did not suffer any major injury. ... I can't say why the blast (happened) or what led to it."
Haideri's JUI Party has hundreds of Islamic Sunni seminaries throughout Baluchistan.
Sharif condemned the attack on Haideri and Anwar-ul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the Baluchistan provincial government, said police had been escorting Haideri when the attack occurred.
Senate Leader Raza Rabbani said the attack on Haideri was an attack on Pakistan's Parliament.
"The war against terrorism is a long war and we have to be united and patient to fight against elements involved in terrorism," said Rabbani, who is a member of the late Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan People's Party.
Several police were among the wounded. Local TV stations broadcast footage showing Haideri's badly damaged car at the scene of the attack.
Gannon reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Munir Ahmed and Zarar Khan in Islamabad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.