Toll from attack on Pakistani Shi’ites jumps to 65

The Shi’ite procession in Quetta was called for solidarity with Palestinians.

Quetta: Pakistani police say the death toll from a suicide attack on a Shi’ite Muslim procession rose from 43 to 65 overnight as critically wounded people died in hospital.

Police official Mohammed Sultan said on Saturday that about 150 people were wounded and some remain critical after the attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban in the southwestern city of Quetta. A triple suicide attack on Wednesday night killed 35 people at a Shi’ite ceremony in the eastern city of Lahore.

Police say leaders of the minority sect called a general strike in Quetta and all schools are closed for a day in mourning.

Pakistan`s Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast and said it would launch attacks in the United States and Europe "very soon" -- repeating a threat to strike Western targets in response to drone attacks that have targeted its leadership.

In Washington, the White House condemned the Quetta attack on a Shi`ite rally expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people, saying it was "even more reprehensible" because it came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Pakistan reels from disastrous flooding.

A US counterterrorism official said the threat by the al Qaeda-linked Taliban against the United States and Europe could not be discounted.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the terrorist bombings. "These attacks, which deliberately targeted Shi’ite Muslims and killed or injured scores of civilians, are unacceptable," UN associate spokesman Yves Sorokobi said at UN headquarters in New York.

The attack came just two days after Washington added the Pakistani Taliban to its list of "foreign terrorist organisations" and charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, with plotting a bombing that killed seven CIA agents at a US base in Afghanistan last December.

In Quetta, dozens of dead and wounded people lay in pools of blood as fires engulfed vehicles.
Hours later, the Taliban said the bombing was revenge for the killing of radical Sunni clerics by Shi`ites, further challenging Pakistan`s unpopular civilian government.

"We take pride in taking responsibility for the Quetta attack," Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban and mentor of suicide bombers, said.

Earlier in the day, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for bombings on Wednesday at a Shi`ite procession in the eastern city of Lahore in which at least 35 people died.

Those blasts were the first major attack since the worst floods in Pakistan`s history began more than a month ago. The Taliban and its allies often target religious minorities in a campaign to destabilise the government.

Attack threat

Aside from its battles against homegrown Taliban, Pakistan is under intense American pressure to tackle Afghan Taliban fighters who cross the border into Pakistan`s lawless tribal areas to attack US-led NATO troops.

The United States has stepped up missile strikes by pilotless drone aircraft against militant targets in Pakistan`s Pashtun tribal lands since the start of 2010.

On Friday, US drones fired missiles at two targets in the North Waziristan tribal region, killing seven militants, including two foreigners, intelligence officials said.

Pakistan`s Taliban has responded to drone attacks by saying it would strike Western targets.

"We will launch attacks in America and Europe very soon," Mehsud said by telephone on Friday from an undisclosed location.

The group claimed responsibility for a failed bomb plot in New York`s Times Square in May and, in December 2009, a Spanish court jailed 10 Pakistanis and an Indian for attempted suicide bombings on Barcelona`s metro in 2008, saying they were inspired by the Pakistan Taliban`s then leader.

"No one is discounting the threat they pose and we and our partners are working hard to disrupt their terrorist activities," a US counterterrorism official said on condition of anonymity.

US State Department spokesman PJ Crowley said the group was designated a "foreign terrorist organisation" because "it is a threat to the United States but most importantly a threat to Pakistan itself”.

Pakistan has said the Army would decide when to carry out a full-fledged assault in North Waziristan, where Washington says the militants enjoy safe havens.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates, visiting troops in Afghanistan, said the flooding "is probably going to delay any operations by the Pakistani Army in North Waziristan for some period of time”.

In another attack in the northwest, a suicide bomber killed one person outside a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, who consider themselves Muslims but whom Pakistan declares non-Muslims.

Bureau Report