A suicide bomb blast ripped through an outdoor Pakistani market yesterday, killing at least 20 people, officials said.
Body parts littered the scene and injured people screamed for help as black smoke cloaked the market after the explosion.
Some 48 people, including three security personnel, were wounded in the blast in the southwestern city of Quetta, capital of resource-rich Baluchistan province, officials said.
With some of the injured in critical condition, rescuer Abdul Hamid Achakzai said that the death toll might go up.
Photographs circulated on social media showed dead bodies piled up on trucks, injured being taken to hospitals and the marketplace awash with blood.
Baluchistan is the focus of the $57bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a transport and energy link planned between western China and Pakistan’s southern deepwater port of Gwadar.
The attack came after a lull of at least a year in violence against the mainly Shia Hazara minority in the province, though there have been isolated shootings.
The blast took place at Hazar Ganji, a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta.
“I was loading a small truck and I heard a huge bang and it seemed as if the earth beneath me had shaken and I fell down,” said Irfan Khan, a labourer, from his hospital bed. “The atmosphere was filled with black smoke and I could not see anything, I could hear people screaming for help and I was also screaming for help.”
He said the air was “filled with the stinging smell of burnt human flesh”.
At least eight of the dead belong to the Hazara community, Quetta city police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema said, adding that one paramilitary official from a squad deployed to guard the community at the market was also killed.
He initially said that the explosive device was hidden between sacks of potatoes, but, later, he and the provincial home minister, Zia Langau, told a news conference that a suicide bomber exploded his device among the people in the market.
The minister also said that two children were among the dead.
“The bomber seemed to be disguised as one of the labourers when he exploded his device,” another police official, Bahram Mandokhel, told Reuters. “We have found his head and other body parts.”
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Hazaras have been frequently targeted by Taliban and Islamic State (IS) militants and other Sunni Muslim militant groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
They have been heavily targeted in Afghanistan in attacks claimed by an affiliate of Islamic State.
Yesterday’s bloodshed came two days after authorities freed Ramzan Mengal, a top leader of a banned sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), police chief Cheema said.
Mengal had been detained for three months under maintenance of public order regulations, he said.
The LeJ has worked both with Al Qaeda and Islamic State in Pakistan and has claimed several co-ordinated attacks in Baluchistan.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban has claimed the market attack, saying that they collaborated with the LeJ.
There was no immediate confirmation from the LeJ.
Ethnic Baluch separatists are also battling what they call unfair exploitation of the province’s gas and other resources.
In 2013, three bombings killed more than 200 people in Hazara neighbourhoods, prompting security forces to escort Hazara buses to the market.
The same practice was followed yesterday, but the blast took place in the market.
Hazaras make up roughly 500,000 of the city’s 2.3mn people.
“Targeted for their religion by sectarian armed groups, (Hazaras) have suffered many such tragedies over several years. Each time there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialise,” Omar Waraich, an official of rights group Amnesty International, said in a statement.
“Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government has made important commitments to protect all religious groups. Those commitments must translate now into policies to effectively protect the Hazaras of Quetta, ending more than a decade of bloodshed.”
Khan himself “strongly condemned” the attack.
“Deeply saddened and have strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Hazarganji market area of Quetta targeting our innocent people. I have asked for an immediate inquiry and increased security for the ppl. Prayers go to the families of the victims and for early recovery of the injured,” the prime minister tweeted.
President Dr Arif Alvi condemned the blast and expressed sorrow over the loss of life.
In a statement, he termed it a “heinous act of terrorism which is a reminder for us as nation that few remnants of this menace are still left to be eliminated totally”.
Condemning the attack, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry prayed for eternal peace for the departed souls and early recovery of the injured.
He said the terrorists wanted to target the process of progress and development by harming peace in the country.
The valiant people of Pakistan have been boldly facing the menace of terrorism and time is not far when terrorists will be completely eliminated from the country, the minister added.
Opposition Leader in the National Assembly Shehbaz Sharif prayed for the departed souls and expressed condolences to the grieving families of the victims.
He said the nation and its institutions have rendered great sacrifices to eliminate terrorism from the soil.
Pakistan Peoples Party chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari wrote on Twitter: “Condemn the terrorist attack in #Quetta. The government must stop dragging its feet and take action to counter violent extremism. Thoughts and prayers with the families of the victims.”
US ambassador to Pakistan Paul W Jones also issued a strong condemnation of the attack.
“We strongly condemn today’s terrorist attack on a market in Quetta. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” the US embassy in Islamabad’s Twitter account posted.
Baluchistan Governor Amanullah Khan Yasinzai, Chief Minister Mir Jam Kamal Khan and Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also condemned the attack.
Violence in Pakistan has dropped significantly since the country’s deadliest-ever militant attack, an assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, most of them children.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
PM to launch Kamyab Naujawan Programme
Military chief’s term extended
Pakistan accuses India of using water as a weapon
Zardari and sister remanded until September 5
Imran welcomes UN meeting over Kashmir dispute
Seven killed, scores hurt in mosque blast
At least four killed, 22 Injured in blast at mosque in Pakistan's Quetta
Kashmir exchange of fire leaves at least five dead
PM vows to respond to any India aggression in Kashmir