A suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Shiite Muslim pilgrims in southwest Pakistan, killing 19 people, a government official and eyewitnesses said.
By Taha Siddiqui in Islamabad
3:31PM GMT 30 Dec 2012
Earlier in the day, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan’s northwest tribal region, officials said, emphasising the free hand militants enjoy across the country.
The attack on Shiites headed for holy sites in Iran occurred when a remotely-triggered bomb hit the convoy of three buses carrying 180 passengers in Mastung district, 20 miles from Quetta, the capital of the province, Baluchistan.
n addition to the 19 people killed in the bombing in Baluchistan’s Mastung district, 25 others were wounded, many of them critically, said Tufail Ahmed, a local political official. The blast completely destroyed the bus that was hit and damaged a second bus carrying Shiites that was close by.
An eyewitness who was traveling in the second bus told Pakistan’s Geo TV that first bus contained over 40 pilgrims headed to neighboring Iran, a majority Shiite country that is a popular religious tourism destination.
A second eyewitness said the bomber rushed by in a pick-up truck, swerved in front of the first bus and slammed on the brakes. The bus slammed into the pick-up truck and then a big explosion occurred.
Neither of the eyewitnesses provided their names while being interviewed on TV.
Shiites make up around 15 percent of Pakistan’s 190 million people. They are scattered around the country, but the province of 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. But the sectarian campaign has stepped up in recent years, fueled 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 21 tribal policemen who were shot dead were found by officials shortly after midnight in the Jabai area of Frontier Region Peshawar after being notified by one policeman who escaped, said Naveed Akbar Khan, a top political official in the area. Another policeman was found seriously wounded, said Khan.
The 23 policemen went missing before dawn Thursday when militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked two posts in Frontier Region Peshawar. Two policemen were also killed in the attacks.
Militants lined the policemen up on a cricket pitch late Saturday night and gunned them down, said another local official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
Also Sunday, two Pakistani army soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in the country, security officials said.