11 arrested for suspected links to Pakistani bus bombing

Police have arrested 11 people with suspected links to a bus bombing that killed 13 people and wounded 20 in south-western Pakistan.

The blast ripped through the vehicle late Sunday near Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, where fighting between tribal militants and security forces has recently escalated.

The ethnic-Baluch men were arrested in raids in various places in Quetta late yesterday and before dawn today, said Chaudhry Mohammed Yaqoob, chief of police in Baluchistan. He said they were suspects in other bombings in the province, but that there was no evidence directly linking the men with yesterday’s bus attack.

Abdul Wahid Qazi, police chief for Quetta district, said earlier that the bus driver and a manager of the bus company were being questioned about the identity of the attackers, who planted the bomb with a timer fuse in the back of the vehicle.

The bus company employees have not been arrested and are not suspects in the case, Qazi said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing, which will likely deepen concerns over the situation in Baluchistan. Local tribesmen resent the presence of security forces and demand a greater share of the revenues from the natural resources, including natural gas, extracted from their territory.

If yesterday’s blast is linked to the tribal unrest, it would represent a serious escalation of the conflict. Tribal attacks have in the past usually targeted troops or gas installations in remote areas.

The bus bombing occurred in Kolpur, a town about 20 miles south-east of Quetta. The vehicle, carrying 50 passengers, was travelling from Quetta to the eastern city of Lahore.

Yaqoob said 13 people were confirmed dead and 20 were injured on the blast. He said the bomb was made of “high-intensity” explosives with a timer. Witnesses said the back of the bus was destroyed, but the front remained intact.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao told state-run Pakistan Television it was too soon to say who was behind the attack, but Yaqoob suggested it was linked to tribal violence.

“This is part of the situation that has been going on in Baluchistan for the past quite some time, and those people have a hand in this who have been involved in this type of explosion,” Yaqoob said.

A survivor said the blast happened while the bus was moving.

“It was a fearsome and very large explosion,” said Lal Mohammed, 34, who suffered injuries to one of his legs and chest.

“There was blood in the bus. I was hit by somebody’s severed hand and I lost consciousness,” he said from a bed in the state-run Civil Hospital in Quetta.

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