Bus bombing kills 24 Shia pilgrims

* 40 others wounded as bomb hits bus carrying pilgrims back from Iran * Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claims responsibility for the attack * Shia organisations announce strike, mourning
Bus bombing kills 24 Shia pilgrims

QUETTA: At least 24 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran were killed and 40 others wounded when a bomb hit their bus on Tuesday, officials said.

The attack took place in Khusak area of Kanak District of Mastung, some 45 kilometres from Quetta. “At least 24 people were killed and 40 others were wounded,” local government official Shafqat Shahwani told AFP. He said 51 passengers had been on board at the time of the blast and that nine passengers were still unaccounted for. Provincial Home Secretary Asad Gilani said it was not immediately clear what type of bomb was used or whether it was a suicide attack. He said that two buses had been travelling together with security vehicles provided by the government and that the bomb struck one of the buses.

Shahwani said that bomb disposal officials suspect the bomb was planted on the roadside and detonated remotely, but he did not rule out the possibility of a suicide attack. He added that the driver of the bus told authorities that he did not see any car hitting his vehicle, but felt a sudden blast followed by the cries of women and children amid the destruction. “We have declared an emergency at hospital and doctors and paramedics are trying to save the wounded,” Shahwani told AFP.

President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the bombing in separate messages. Two people were killed in a similar attack on January 1 when a bomb targeted a bus carrying Shia pilgrims near Quetta. There has been a rise in sectarian violence in Pakistan after several deadly clashes between Sunni and Shia groups near Islamabad in November last year. Two huge bomb attacks in Quetta in January and February last year targeting Shiites from the Hazara ethnic community killed nearly 200 people.

Banned organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed the responsibility for the attack. According to reports, the bus was coming from Pak-Iran border town of Taftan when it was attacked on the main Quetta-Taftan Highway in Mastung District. Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Hazara Democratic Party (HDP), Tahafuz-e-Azadari Council have announced three days of mourning and a shutter-down strike in Quetta today. 

While talking to Daily Times Mastung Assistant Commissioner Shafqat Anwar Shahwani said that 24 people were killed and 40 others sustained injures in the blast. The bus caught fire after the explosion. “Eleven women were injured in blast,” Shafqat Anwar Shahwani said and added that the bus of the pilgrims and two private cars were destroyed in the attack. “The buses were stopped and two FC personnel got off and went near to search the car. As they got close to the car, a huge explosion took place killing both on the spot,” Shafqat Anwar told Daily Times.

After the increasing frequency of attacks on Shia pilgrims, security on Quetta-Taftan Highway had been beefed up and the buses carrying Shia pilgrims were escorted by FC and Balochistan Levies personnel. Home Secretary Asad Gilani said, “Around 103 pilgrims were in two buses, and one of the buses was hit in which 51 pilgrims were travelling.” A Balochistan Levies Officer said that at least 12 dead bodies and 13 injured have so far been shifted to Quetta from Mastung. Ambulances were sent from Quetta to bring the dead bodies and injured. “I saw at least ten dead bodies and many injured lying in a pool of blood. The bus caught fire after the explosion,” said Arif, who sustained injuries in the attack.

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