Islamabad: At least 63 people were killed and more than 200 others injured in a powerful remote-controlled bomb blast targeting Shiite Muslims in Quetta city of Balochistan province here on Saturday.
The explosion took place near a school at Kirani Road, surrounding to which stays a sizeable Shia population that has been targeted by terrorists in the past.
The bomb which was planted in an auto-rickshaw, blew out windows and damaged several residential buildings and shops too. Footage on television showed a plume of smoke rising into the sky after the blast.
Police officials and paramilitary troops have cordoned off the entire area and injured have been rushed to Bolan Med Complex of Quetta amid high security.
"The blast took place on Kirana road market and it was through a remote controlled device," DIG Wazir Khan Nasir said to the reporters.
"All the dead were from the Hazara community and the casualties might rise as the bomb explosion caused lot of damage," DIG confirmed.
Mutthaida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader, Dr Farooq Sattar confirmed at a press conference in Karachi that more than 35 people belonging to the Hazara Shia community had been killed in the blast.
However, rescue officials have confirmed that more than 60 people, including women and children were killed while around 200 were injured in the blast.
Till now the nature and target of the blast is not clear as media and residents are kept away from the targeted area.
However, some eyewitnesses coming from the site told media that the blast destroyed several shops, houses and vehicles. Hospital sources said the death toll may rise further as several people among the injured were in critical condition.
Yet now no group have claimed the responsibility for the blast.
However, similar attacks in the recent past have been blamed on the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a notorious militant group that often targets Shias.
On January 10, a twin suicide attack in Quetta killed 92 Hazara Shias, the highest toll in a single attack on Shias, who make up 20 per cent of Pakistan`s population of 180 million.
Following the attack, the federal government imposed Governor`s Rule in Balochistan province.
After today`s blast the powerful Shia organisation, Wahdatul Muslimeen, announced a strike in Balochistan province tomorrow.
People in a large number took to the streets in many areas of the city and protested the blast, pelting vehicles with stones and blocking roads.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attack and reiterated the government`s resolve to continue the fight against militants.
Ashraf directed provincial authorities to arrest the perpetrators of the blast.
"We will not be intimidated by such cowardly acts and such acts will not deter our resolve to fight terrorism," he said.
With PTI inputs