Islamabad: The death toll in a devastating bomb attack that targeted Shia Hazaras in Quetta city of southwestern Pakistan rose to 81 as several persons died in hospital and bodies were pulled out of the rubble of collapsed buildings, officials said. About 40 people were killed instantly when hundreds of kilograms of explosives hidden in a water tank loaded on a tractor-trolley were detonated in a busy market at Kirani Road in Hazara Town, a suburb of Quetta, Saturday evening.
Several seriously injured people died in hospital overnight and rescue workers dug out bodies from the debris of buildings flattened by the powerful blast that was heard all over Quetta, the capital of the restive Balochistan province. Nearly 200 people were injured and authorities made arrangements to airlift people with serious injuries to Karachi.
The explosion created a crater six feet deep and nearly 20 feet long. Some reports said about 800 kg of explosives were used in the attack, for which the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility. LeJ spokesman Abubakar Siddique told reporters by phone: "Our suicide bomber carried out the blast and the Shia community in Hazara Town was the target."
There was no official word on whether a suicide bomber was involved in the incident, which was the deadliest attack on Quetta's Shia Hazaras since 92 members of the community were killed in twin suicide bombings on January 10. Three days after the last attack, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf acceded to demands from Shia groups and imposed Governor's Rule after sacking the Balochistan government.
Saturday's deadly attack dominated the front pages of newspapers, with the report in the Dawn headlined 'Terror comes back to haunt Hazaras' while the headline in The News read: 'Hazaras face yet another pogrom'. Shia groups and political parties called for a strike in Quetta today to protest the attack.
The Balochistan government announced a day of mourning while Shia groups asked people to observe seven days of mourning. Shias, especially the Hazaras who stand out due to their distinctive features, have been increasingly attacked by militant groups like the LeJ and Sipah-e-Sahaba that describe them as heretics and non-Muslims.
Shias make up 20 per cent of Sunni-majority Pakistan's population of 180 million. According to Human Rights Watch, over 400 Shias were killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan last year. The rights group said over 125 were killed in Balochistan province, most of whom Hazaras.Reports said about 800 kg of explosives were used in the attack, for which Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.