A suicide bomber attacked a government office in Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 23 people and wounding more than 70, according to officials. The incident has since been claimed by a faction of the Pakistani Taliban.
The attacker targeted a branch of the National Database and Registration Authority (Nadra), which issues government ID cards, in the city of Mardan in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
"A suicide bomber riding an explosives-laden motorcycle hit the Nadra office in Mardan where a large number of people were standing in queues," police officer Naeem Khan said.
At least 23 people were killed and about 75 were wounded, more than 25 of them critically, said Bilal Ahmad Faizi, spokesman for Rescue 1122 emergency responders.
Eyewitness Mohammad Ibrahim Gul, who is owner of a hotel near the Nadra office, told VICE News that a "security guard sacrificed his life while stopping a suicide attacker at main gate."
Police officer Faisal Shehzad added that: "The attacker tried to enter the main building, but was prevented from doing so through the bravery of the guard." According to the bomb disposal squad eight to 10 kilograms (17–22 lbs) of explosives were used in the blast.
A Nadra employee Mehtab Khattak said the office was crowded when the bomb went off and when he looked out he saw bodies of the dead and injured around the gate.
There is speculation that this attack was in revenge for today's hanging of four militants, who were charged with assisting in other suicide bombings and attacks on soldiers. The men — named as Noor Saeed, Murad Khan, Inayat Ullah, and Israr Uddin — were executed in a jail in the city of Kohat, also in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Jamaat ur Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban that is fighting to overthrow the government and establish hard-line Islamist rule, claimed responsibility for the attack in Mardan.
Spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said the office was part of the "heathen Pakistan state" and therefore a legitimate target. "God willing, we will target all Pakistani organizations that are either directly or indirectly a part of this war," Ehsan said in a statement.
The Pakistani Taliban once controlled swathes of remote territory in the northwest, but a series of military offensives that began in 2009 has pushed them back into a few pockets.
There have been fewer militant attacks in towns and cities over the past year or so, compared with several years ago, but the Taliban remain a potent threat.
Pakistan's Dawn newspaper also reported that earlier in December, a search and strike operation in Mardan saw 327 people arrested, including 16 Afghans who were in the country illegally.
Imran Khan, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf political party, offered his condolences, calling the perpetrators "enemies of humanity."