A car bomb targeting a bus carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims killed 19 people in south-west Pakistan today.
Another 25 people were wounded, many of them critically, in the bombing in Baluchistan’s Mastung district, said Tufail Ahmed, a local political official.
The blast destroyed the bus and damaged a second bus carrying more Shiites.
Mr Ahmed and a passenger on the second bus, Mohammed Ayan Danish, said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber who “rammed a small car into the first bus, which contained 43 pilgrims”.
But Akbar Durrani, the home secretary in Baluchistan, said the explosion was caused by a car packed with explosives that was parked beside the road and detonated by remote control.
Pakistan has experienced a spike in killings over the last year by radical Sunni Muslims targeting Shiites, whom they consider heretics. The violence has been especially pronounced in Baluchistan province.
The pilgrims who were targeted were headed to Iran, a majority Shiite country that is a popular religious tourism destination, Mr Ahmed said.
Shiites make up around 15% of Pakistan’s 190 million people. They are scattered around the country, but Baluchistan has the largest community, mainly made up of ethnic Hazaras, easily identified by their facial features, which resemble those of Central Asians.
Sunni extremists have long carried out attacks against Shiites in Pakistan. The sectarian campaign has stepped up in recent years, fuelled mainly by the radical group Laskar-e-Jangvhi, aligned to Pakistani Taliban militants headquartered in the tribal region.
More than 300 Shiites have been killed in Pakistan this year, according to Human Rights Watch.
The violence has pushed Baluchistan deeper into chaos. The province was already facing an armed insurgency by ethnic Baluch separatists who frequently attack security forces and government facilities. Now the secessionist violence has been overtaken by increasingly bold attacks against Shiites.
The sectarian bloodshed adds another layer to the turmoil in Pakistan, where the government is fighting an insurgency by the Pakistani Taliban and where many fear Sunni hardliners are gaining strength.
Shiites and rights group say the government does little to protect Shiites and that militants are emboldened because they are believed to have links to Pakistan’s intelligence agencies.
Earlier today, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan’s troubled north-west tribal region, government officials said.
The officers were found by officials shortly after midnight in the Jabai area of Frontier Region Peshawar after one policeman who escaped, said Naveed Akbar Khan, a senior political official in the area. Another policeman was found seriously wounded, Mr Khan said.
The 23 policemen went missing before dawn on Thursday when militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked two posts in Frontier Region Peshawar. Two policemen were killed in the attacks.
Militants lined the policemen up on a cricket pitch late on Saturday night and gunned them down, said another local source.
Also today, two Pakistani army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al Qaida militants in the country, security officials said.