Islamabad: Gunmen opened fire on minority Shiite Muslim pilgrims traveling through southwest Pakistan on Tuesday, killing 26 people in an apparent sectarian attack, officials and survivors said.
The pilgrims were traveling by bus through Mastung district in Baluchistan province on their way to the Iranian border when the attack occurred, said Khushhal Khan, the driver of the vehicle, which was carrying at least 40 people.
A pickup truck blocked the vehicle's path, and a group of at least eight men carrying rockets and guns forced the passengers off, Khan told a local television station. The passengers tried to run, but the gunmen opened fire, killing 26 people and wounding six others, said Khan.
The men then jumped in their truck and sped off, said Khan. The wounded lay on the ground for nearly an hour before rescue workers arrived, he said.
Local television footage showed rescue workers loading the dead and wounded into ambulances to take them to the provincial capital of Quetta, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) to the north.
Vehicles carrying Shiite pilgrims are usually provided with protection as they travel through Mastung, but authorities weren't notified about this particular bus, said Saeed Umrani, a senior government official in Mastung.
Not long after that attack, gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on a vehicle carrying Shiites in Quetta, killing two of them and wounding several others, said senior police officer Hamid Shakil.
Pakistan is a majority Sunni Muslim state. Although most Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan live together peacefully, extremists on both sides target each other's leaders and activists. In most of the attacks, Sunnis target Shiites.
The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century.
Conflict between the two sects in Pakistan worsened in the 1980s following the revolution in majority Shiite Iran in 1979. The uprising stoked concern in many majority Sunni states, including Saudi Arabia. Pakistan became the scene of a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the 1980s and 1990s, with both sides funneling money to sectarian groups.
The level of sectarian violence has declined somewhat since then, but frequent attacks continue.
Gunmen opened fire on a minibus carrying Shiites in Quetta at the end of July, killing 11 people. Angered over the killings, dozens of Shiites briefly blocked a main road and torched two cars and two motorcycles. Police regained control of the situation with help from local Shiite elders.