20 Shias killed in Mastung bus blast
* 25 others wounded as remotely triggered bomb hits a convoy of buses carrying about 180 pilgrims to Iran
* Jaish-ul-Islam says blast in revenge for attacks on Sunni ulema
QUETTA: A car bomb exploded on Sunday near a convoy of buses taking Shia pilgrims to Iran, killing 20 people and wounding 25, officials said.
Witnesses said the blast occurred as the three buses were overtaking a car about 60 kilometres west of Quetta, site of many sectarian attacks, near the Iranian border.
“The bus next to us caught on fire immediately,” said Hussain Ali, a pilgrim.
“We tried to save our companions but were driven back by the intensity of the heat.” An official at Mastung district hospital said 20 people had been killed and 25 wounded.
Balochistan Home Secretary Akbar Durrani said that remote-controlled explosive was used to target the buses. Talking to the media, he denied reports that a suicide bomber attacked the buses.
“According to the Bomb Disposal Squad, about 100 kilogrammes of explosives were used in the blast and the bomb-laden car was exploded by a remote,” he added.
He said rescue teams were trying to reach victims in the wreckage of the vehicles. He said the death toll could rise.
“At least 19 people have been killed and 25 injured,” said Tufail Baloch, a senior district government official.
“All of them were Shia pilgrims,” he added.
Most of those killed were burnt to death, he said, adding, “The bomb was planted in a car. The condition of some of the injured is critical.”
The injured included four women and some children but medics were having trouble identifying the bodies, many of which were burnt beyond recognition, said Akbar Harifal, a top official in the area.
Investigators recovered broken parts of a car and were investigating the possible involvement of a suicide bomber, Harifal said.
The owner of the buses said that the three buses were on way to Iran, adding that 43 passengers were on board.
Meanwhile, Jaish-ul-Islam claimed the responsibility for the Mastung bombing.
A Jaish-ul-Islam spokesperson, Ghazi Haq Nawaz, said that the attack on pilgrim buses by the “mujahideen” was in response to an attack on Sunni clerics in Quetta and Karachi.
Nawaz asked the Mastung administration not to help Shias “otherwise it would be their next target”. He also warned CD shop owners in Quetta to destroy all those CDs which contain blasphemous material.
Hospital officials identified the injured as Muhammad Nawaz, Abbas Shah, Yasir, Shehzada, Tahira Bibi, Kalsoom, Shamim Batool, Parvin Akhtar, Muhammad Latif, Muhammad Israr, Sajid Ali, Hurmat Iqbal, Sarfaraz Ali, Safeer Hussain, Syed Jaffar Hussain, Muhammad Iqbal, Sher Hayat, Tahir Ali, Muhammad Aslam, Farhat, Manzoor and Khizar Hayat.
However, the identity of the dead could not be ascertained as charred bodies were brought to the hospital morgue. The Home Department sources said that the victims belonged to Lahore, Multan, Jhang, Chiniot, Lala Musa, Sargodha, Gujrat and Gujranwala.
Earlier, they reached Quetta and left for the border town of Taftan on Sunday morning. A case had been registered and an investigation was launched.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, meanwhile, condemned the terrorist attack on the Shias and directed authorities to provide all-out help to the injured.
A string of attacks on Shias underscores the government’s inability to crack down on groups promoting sectarian violence.
In August, militants made passengers disembark from a bus in a northern province and shot 19 Shias dead after determining from their identity cards whether they were Shias or not.
New York-based Human Rights Watch has noted more than 320 Shias killed this year in Pakistan and said attacks were on the rise.
It said the government’s failure to catch or prosecute attackers suggested it was “indifferent” to the killings.
Pakistan has banned several militant groups that openly call for attacks on Shias. Rights groups alleged that some groups have ties to Pakistani security agencies.
Balochistan is also rife with militancy and home to a regional insurgency which began in 2004. agencies