LAHORE – The deadliest attacks in Pakistan’s troubled election campaign killed at least 132 people, including a candidate, on Friday just before the arrest of disgraced former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif upon his return to the country.
In the southwestern province of Baluchistan, a suicide bomber killed 128 people, including a politician running for a provincial legislature. Four others died in a strike in Pakistan’s northwest, spreading panic in the country.
The attacks came hours before Sharif returned from London along with his daughter Maryam to face a 10-year prison sentence on corruption charges. Maryam Sharif faces seven years in jail.
He was taken into custody to serve his sentence but was expected to appeal and seek bail by Monday.
In the southern town of Mastung, candidate Siraj Raisani and 127 others died when a suicide bomber blew himself up amid scores of supporters who had gathered at a rally.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement carried on its Aamaq news agency. The group gave no reason for the bombing.
Raisani was running on the Baluchistan Awami Party ticket.
Raisani is the brother of the former Baluchistan chief minister, Aslam Raisani.
Caretaker Home Minister Agha Umar Bungalzai said another 300 people were wounded in Friday’s bombing.
Meanwhile, Sharif arrived in the eastern city of Lahore from London, where he was visiting his ailing wife when a Pakistani court convicted him and his daughter of corruption.
Sharif’s son-in-law is currently serving his one-year prison sentence on the same charge, which stems from the purchase of luxury apartments in Britain that the court said were bought with illegally acquired money.
In a video message Friday reportedly from aboard his aircraft en route to Pakistan, Sharif said he was returning knowing he would be taken directly to prison.
Sharif has been banned from participating in politics, and his brother Shahbaz Sharif now heads his Pakistan Muslim League and is campaigning for re-election on July 25.
In a televised appeal to supporters from London earlier in the week, Sharif again criticized Pakistan’s powerful military, which has ruled the country directly or indirectly for most of its 71-year history, saying Pakistan now has a “state above the state.”
During his term in office, Sharif criticized the military’s involvement in civilian affairs and its efforts in fighting extremists.
Pakistani and international rights groups have accused the military of seeking to maintain its influence in Pakistani politics by keeping Sharif out of power.
The military denied the accusations, saying its assistance in carrying out the elections was requested by Pakistan’s Election Commission. The army will deploy 350,000 security personnel to polling stations throughout the country on election day.
Underscoring the security threat were Friday’s bombings, the first of which killed four people in the northwest near the election rally of a senior politician from an Islamist party.
The explosion targeted candidate Akram Khan Durrani, who escaped unhurt, and wounded 20 people, said local police chief Rashid Khan.
Durrani is running in the July 25 vote against popular former lawmaker Imran Khan. He is a candidate of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, an election alliance of radical religious groups.
The attacks came days after a suicide bomber dispatched by the Pakistani Taliban killed secular politician Haroon Ahmed Bilour and 20 others at his rally in the northwestern city of Peshawar.
Former lawmaker Imran Khan, who hopes to become the next prime minister, condemned Friday’s attack against his opponent, Durrani. In a tweet, he said there seems to be a conspiracy to sabotage the July 25 vote. But he said the people of Pakistan will not allow anything to prevent “historic” elections from taking place.
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5