QUETTA, Pakistan — At least 28 people were killed and dozens wounded in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Sunday when a suicide bomber attacked a largely Shiite Muslim neighbourhood, police said.
The blast appeared to be the latest in an escalating campaign of gun and bomb attacks by militants on ethnic Hazaras in Quetta because they belong to Pakistan’s Shi’ite minority.
Mir Zubair, Quetta’s police chief, said a suicide bomber riding a bicycle had detonated his explosives when he was stopped at a barrier in the Hazara Town district, a Hazara enclave on the western edge of the city.
“The dead included nine women, a girl and a 14-year-old boy,” Zubair told reporters.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group which has carried out many gun and bomb attacks on Hazaras in Quetta, said it was behind the bombing. A spokesman for the group called the Express News television channel to make the claim.
The group is aligned with the Takfiri Deobandi school of Islam, which sees Shi’ites as infidels.
Lashkar has intensified its campaign in Quetta this year. Earlier this month, it claimed responsibility for an attack in which a suicide bomber attacked a bus carrying women students in Quetta and then gunmen stormed a hospital treating survivors. More than 20 people were killed from various ethnic groups.
Lashkar said it had carried out the hospital assault in retaliation for a police raid on the outskirts of the city in which several militants had been killed.
The bus-and-hospital attack was the biggest since bombings in the city at the start of the year killed almost 200 people in Hazara neighbourhoods, briefly drawing global attention to the growing campaign of persecution of Hazaras by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
In a separate blast earlier on Sunday, 14 people were killed in the northwestern city of Peshawar when a roadside bomb attack narrowly missed a passing convoy of security forces but ravaged a busy market area, police said.
Two paramilitary personnel riding with the convoy were wounded but the brunt of the blast was borne by passers-by in the tense Badhber neighbourhood of Peshawar, a frequent scene of attacks on the police and army by Pakistan’s Taliban militants.
“The blast was so powerful that it destroyed 10 shops and eight vehicles,” said Mir Ajab Khan, the head of a police station in Badhber.
All the dead were civilians apart from a policeman. Four children and a woman were among those killed. Health officials said 25 people were wounded.
“Some of the wounded were brought in critical condition and have been shifted to an intensive care unit of the hospital,” said Mohammad Iqbal Afridi, medical superintendent of the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar.
A senior official with the paramilitary Frontier Corps (FC) said two of its men had been wounded.
“All the FC men remained unhurt in the attack except two who suffered injuries and were admitted to the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar,” the official said.
A spate of attacks in Pakistan in recent weeks has underlined the challenge militancy poses to the new government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who won a landslide victory in May 11 general elections.
Before the election, Sharif said he would be willing to negotiate an end to years of fighting with the Taliban in Pakistan’s rugged tribal areas on the border with Afghanistan. But the group withdrew an offer of talks after a May 28 U.S. drone strike killed deputy leader Wali-ur-Rehman.
The group has since vowed to “teach a lesson” to Pakistan and the United States for the killing. It believes the Pakistani government cooperates with Washington on drone attacks.
Known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban have carried out many attacks against the Pakistani military and civilians. It is a separate entity to the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban is closely aligned with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Reporting by Jibran Ahmed; Writing by Matthew Green; Editing by Andrew Roche.