Leaders of the Shiite Muslim minority in the Pakistani city of Quetta demanded the deployment of the country’s army after the latest in a wave of militant attacks that the community said killed 84 people.
At least 225 were injured in the Feb. 16 bombing at a market in the capital of the province of Baluchistan, said Sardar Tariq Jafri, an official with a local Shiite organization. Relatives refused to bury the dead, repeating a protest that last month forced the dismissal of the provincial administration following a similar massacre.
Prominent Shiites, including Shia Ulema Council leader and religious scholar Abbas Komali, demanded an army-led operation to stop the attacks. TV channels showed protesters, including women and children, staging a sit-in alongside the bodies of the victims of the latest attack.
“All state institutions have failed to protect us,” Jafri said in a phone interview from Quetta. “The army should conduct targeted operations to clean this city. We will not end our protest until this demand has been met.”
Among the dead were 17 children and two teachers who were at school near the explosion, the ARY channel said.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or the Army of Jhang, a Sunni militant group named after a city in Punjab province, has claimed previous assaults on Shiites. The U.S. State Department in 2003 listed it as a terrorist group, saying it had links to al-Qaeda and was involved with the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
While attacks on Shiites, who account for about 15 percent of the country’s 200 million people and are considered heretics by extreme groups among the Sunni majority, occur regularly in Pakistan, the last few months have been especially bloody. Three near simultaneous strikes on Quetta’s Shiite Hazara neighborhoods killed 96 people in January.
At least 400 Shiites died from violence in 2012 in Pakistan, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 120 were killed in Baluchistan, most of them Hazara. Baluchistan, a region rich in natural resources including gas assets, is also roiled by a separatist insurgency.
President Asif Ali Zardari’s government, which faces a general election in early May, has been criticized to failing to bolster security in Shiite areas. The army is separately fighting Taliban guerrillas in the country’s northwest.
Political and religious parties in the country’s commercial hub of Karachi supported a strike call by Shiite groups to protest the killings. Markets were shut and roads quiet as transport groups and traders backed the stoppage. Buildings were draped in black cloth.
The U.S. and Afghanistan have long alleged that the remaining leadership of the Afghan Taliban, including its leader Mullah Muhammad Omar, is based around Quetta, after fleeing there following the U.S.-led invasion.