Pakistan ordered its military to airlift home the bodies of at least 20 Shiite Muslims killed in the country’s southwest, the latest attack on the minority sect that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists.
A car bomb yesterday struck a convoy of three buses bound for Shiite holy sites in neighboring Iran. The attack in the Mastung district of Baluchistan province triggered a fire in one of the vehicles, state-run Pakistan Television reported.
Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attack and asked the army to fly the remains of the victims from the site of the incident, which took place about 30 kilometers (18 miles) south of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan.
Attacks on Shiites are common in Pakistan, where the community accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s 200 million people. This year, militants linked to Pakistan’s Taliban movement have targeted Shiites from the ethnic Hazara group. At least 320 Shiites died in targeted attacks in 2012 in Pakistan, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. Over 100 were killed in Baluchistan, most of them Hazara, it said.
Pakistani officials have blamed Sunni guerrillas of the Sipah-e-Sahaba movement and allied militant groups for the sectarian killings. The attacks come as Pakistan’s army battles Taliban fighters in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan.
In the latest violence there, Taliban killed 21 security personnel kidnapped last week from their posts near the city of Peshawar, according to a statement from President Asif Ali Zardari’s office.
The president has “strongly condemned the gruesome” killings of members of a tribal police force, his office said in an e-mailed statement yesterday. Pakistan’s Taliban wants to overthrow the country’s elected government and regularly attacks security and civilian targets.
Peshawar is a gateway to the volatile tribal region where foreign and local militant groups have sanctuaries they use as a base to also attack U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan. Pakistani forces thwarted a strike on Peshawar’s airport on Dec. 16, killing 10 militants armed with rockets, suicide jackets and hand grenades, according to the military.
About a third of the 3,879 people killed in militant violence in Pakistan in 2012 were civilians, the Conflict Monitoring Center, a group headed by retired Pakistan army personnel, said in its annual report today. Of those killed, 589 were members of the security forces. Militant groups have carried out 400 attacks this year, compared with 246 in 2011, according to the report.
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