ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The death toll in a suicide bombing that targeted an election campaign event in southwestern Pakistan rose to 128 on Saturday, the deadliest terror attack in the country this year.
The attack, which took place on Friday in the restive province of Baluchistan, has renewed concerns that violence could disrupt national elections scheduled for July 25.
Pakistan is preparing for its second democratic transition after military rule, but a number of terrorist attacks targeting candidates and a growing sense of political unrest and turmoil threaten to undermine the credibility of the election.
Four such assaults have struck in the past week alone, with two candidates among those killed.
The government announced two days of mourning after the latest blast, with national flags at half-staff in all government buildings in Baluchistan. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack on Friday.
In the assault, Nawabzada Mir Siraj Khan Raisani, 55, a candidate for the provincial assembly, had just arrived at a campaign gathering in a town in the district of Mastung when a suicide bomber detonated his explosives.
Mr. Raisani, who was among those killed, was a candidate of the Baluchistan Awami Party, a newly formed group that is seen as being backed by the Pakistani military.
The explosion ripped through the meeting and left a trail of devastation and destruction. The victims were ferried to the provincial capital, Quetta, because the health facilities in Mastung were unable to cope with the number of the wounded and the extent of their injuries.
Mastung has a history of deadly sectarian and militant violence. Mr. Raisani escaped a bombing in the district in 2011, when an explosion ripped through a prize ceremony after a soccer match. He was unhurt, but his teenage son and 24 other people were killed.
Last year, Abdul Ghafoor Haideri, a senior politician, escaped an assassination attempt in Mastung when his convoy was targeted in an explosion. Mr. Haideri survived with injuries, but at least 25 other people were killed in the attack that was also claimed by the Islamic State. In the past, extremist Sunni groups in the district have targeted Shiites pilgrims making their way to Iran.
Muhammad Amir Rana, a security analyst who is the director of Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank, said the Islamic State had been active in the region and had targeted government and security forces.
“It is an intelligence failure, but the attack was expected,” Mr. Rana said. “Last year, at least four big terror attacks in Baluchistan were claimed by the Islamic State.”
Mastung has a complex profile, he added. Several nonviolent sectarian groups are also active in the district, and it has a significant number of radical religious schools.
Mr. Rana said that despite the increased attacks, he did not see an immediate threat to the elections.
“The violence is currently limited to regions where the militants have been active and concentrated for a long time,” he said. “Unless militant attacks move to the urban areas, especially big cities in Punjab Province, I don’t think the elections would be affected.”
Several candidates, however, have complained that their ability to campaign has been affected because of the recent attacks. Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, was not allowed to address an election event in northwestern Pakistan by the authorities, party officials said on Saturday.
Source : Nytimes