Quetta: A deadly suicide bomb blast on Sunday morning targeted a bus convoy carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims, killing 19 in Mastung district of Baluchistan in southwest Pakistan.
19 were killed and more than 20 injured when the suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden vehicle into the pilgrims` bus convoy.
According to the eyewitnesses, the first bus contained over 40 pilgrims headed to neighboring Iran - a country with majority of Shiites and a favourite destination for pilgrims.
The pilgrims were on their way to Quetta from the Iranian city of Taftan.
Shias travel regularly to Taftan to perform pilgrimage.
A second eyewitness said the bomber rushed by in a pick-up truck, swerved in front of the first bus and slammed on the brakes. The bus slammed into the pick-up truck and then a big explosion occurred.
One bus was almost completely destroyed. The other was damaged.
Shiites make up around 15 percent of Pakistan`s 190 million people. They are scattered around the country, but the province of Baluchistan has the largest community, mainly made up of ethnic Hazaras, easily identified by their facial features which resemble those of Central Asians.
Sunni extremists have long carried out attacks against Shiites in Pakistan. But the sectarian campaign has stepped up in recent years, fueled mainly by the radical group Laskar-e-Jangvhi, aligned to Pakistani Taliban militants headquartered in the tribal region. More than 300 Shiites have been killed in Pakistan this year, according to Human Rights Watch.
The violence has pushed Baluchistan in particular deeper into chaos. The province was already facing an armed insurgency by ethnic Baluch separatists who frequently attack security forces and government facilities. But the secessionist violence has been overtaken by increasingly bold attacks against Shiites.
The sectarian bloodletting adds another layer to the turmoil in Pakistan, where the government is fighting an insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and where many fear Sunni hardliners are gaining strength. Shiites and rights group say the government does little to protect Shiites and that militants are emboldened because they are believed to have links to Pakistan`s intelligence agencies.
Earlier this year, at least 14 people were killed in the Hazarganji area of Quetta when a bus carrying pilgrims from Taftan was targeted by a suicide bomber.
Also today, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan`s troubled northwest tribal region, government officials said.
With Agency Inputs