PESHAWAR, Pakistan — A candidate from a political party opposed to the Taliban was killed in a suicide bombing late Tuesday as he campaigned in northwestern Pakistan, just weeks before the country goes to the polls.
At least 12 people were killed and dozens were wounded, several of them critically, police and hospital officials said. The death toll was expected to rise, officials said.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but immediate suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban, which has frequently attacked secularist politicians.
The attack raised concerns about the safety of candidates running in the July 25 general elections, and immediately cast a pall across Pakistan. It was the first such attack of this year’s campaign.
The candidate who was killed, Haroon Bilour, belonged to a prominent political family from Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province.
Mr. Bilour, who was running for a provincial assembly seat, was at a campaign event late Tuesday night when the bomber detonated his explosives jacket, police officials said.
Mr. Bilour’s father, Bashir Ahmad Bilour, a prominent politician and a senior provincial minister, was killed in a suicide attack by the Taliban just months ahead of the last general elections, in 2013, not far from Tuesday’s explosion. Haroon Bilour’s son was wounded in the latest attack.
The Bilours belonged to the Awami National Party, whose opposition to the Taliban has made it a repeated target of the militants. Several of the A.N.P.’s leaders and at least 700 of its workers have been killed in the past decade.
The intensity of the attacks greatly affected the party’s ability to openly campaign and mobilize supporters in the last general elections and contributed to losses, party officials said. With the security situation significantly improved in the country in the last couple of years, however, members of the A.N.P. had hoped that they would be able to campaign in safety.
Haroon Bilour, the provincial information secretary of his political party, expressed such hopes in recent interviews with local news media. Mr. Bilour had survived at least two assassination attempts.
But late Tuesday, a suicide bomber managed to mingle with the supporters of Mr. Bilour as he arrived at a campaign event in Peshawar. “The suicide bomber was sitting and waiting for Haroon to arrive,” said Taj Muhamamd Wazir, a local A.N.P. official said.
The killing was widely condemned by Pakistan’s political leaders.
Imran Khan, the leader of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, condemned the attack and called for the state to provide proper security for the candidates.
“Yet another A.N.P. leader has sacrificed his life for the sake of peace and democracy,” Sardar Hussain Babak, the provincial general secretary of Awami National Party, said in a telephone interview. “We have a long list of martyrs, and we will continue to fight against the forces of extremism and militancy.”
Mr. Babak, who is also running for elections, said the party leadership was getting threats from the Taliban on an almost daily basis.
“But the federal and provincial governments have failed to provide us with security,” he said. “We had made our own security arrangements.”
Salman Masood reported from Islamabad, Pakistan. Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributing reporting from Islamabad.