QUETTA: A bomb targeting Shia Muslims in a busy market in Pakistan’s insurgency-hit southwest killed 79 people including women and children and wounded 180 others, officials said.
The powerful bomb in a water tanker ripped through a packed bazaar in Hazara town, an area dominated by Shias on the outskirts of Quetta — capital of oil and gas rich Baluchistan province — at around 6pm yesterday.
“We have recovered more dead bodies from the debris of a collapsed building. The death toll has now risen to 79,” senior Quetta police official Wazir Khan Nasir said.
Quetta city police chief Zubair Mehmood said the water tanker, which officials said was packed with some 800 kilograms of explosives, was placed near a pillar of a two-storey building, which collapsed in the blast. “We fear that several people have been trapped inside. Rescue work is ongoing but I see very little chance of their survival,” Mehmood said.
Nasir said the bombing “was a sectarian attack, the Shia community was the target”.
A spokesman for the banned Sunni Muslim extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the bombing.
Provincial home secretary Akbar Hussain Durrani said the dead and injured included women and children, and confirmed reports of people trapped under rubble at the site of the collapsed building.
“We fear more casualties. We have announced an emergency in hospitals,” he said.
Officials and witnesses said an angry mob initially surrounded the area following the bombing and were not allowing police, rescue workers and reporters to reach the site.
“They were angry and started a protest, some of them pelted police with stones,” Durrani said, adding that authorities and medical personnel were eventually able to gain access.
Sayed Qamar Haider Zaidi, a spokesman for Shia groups in the area, condemned the Pakistani government for not providing protection to the community and announced three days of mourning and protest over the attack.
Baluchistan has become a flashpoint for sectarian violence between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and Shiites, who account for around a fifth of the country’s 180 million people.