Bombs Kill 118 People in Pakistan as Sectarian Attacks Surge

Bomb blasts in Pakistan killed at least 118 people yesterday, including a twin strike on the country’s Shiite minority, in one of the worst series of attacks in recent months as the country struggles to contain sectarian and ethnic violence.

At least 96 people were killed and more than 100 injured in three attacks in Quetta, the capital of southwestern Baluchistan province, city police chief Mir Zubir said. “Militants are looking for opportunities and unfortunately today they succeeded,” he said in televised comments yesterday.

Of those killed in Quetta, 85 died in two nighttime blasts 10 minutes apart at a billiards club, attacks police said were claimed by the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Sunni militant group. The Alamdar Road area where the attacks took place is heavily populated with Shiites from the Afghan Hazara ethnic community. Two journalists from a private television channel, Samma, and six police officers were among the dead.

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 Hazara Shiites, whom they consider heretics. At least 400 Shiites died in attacks in 2012 in Pakistan, according to a statement yesterday from New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 120 were killed in Baluchistan, most of them Hazara, it said.

Media Teams

“The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the minority Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups, is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens,” the group said in yesterday’s statement.

Shiite religious processions and mosques have been attacked in cities across the country, including a blast in Rawalpindi, home to the nation’s military headquarters, that killed more than 20 people in November.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or the Army of Jhang, a city in Punjab province, is an organization of Islam’s Sunni Deobandi sect and has conducted scores of bombings and shootings against minority Shiites in Pakistan. 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-murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.

Coordinated Strike

The first of the two blasts at the Quetta club yesterday was a suicide attack, Muhammad Ramzan, staff officer to Deputy Inspector General of Police Hamid Shakeel, said by phone. A more powerful explosion ripped apart a car as media teams covered the first incident and police and people helped victims from the earlier detonation. Dozens of vehicles and shops were destroyed by the bombs.

U.S. Ambassador to Islamabad Richard Olson condemned the “senseless and inhumane acts” in a statement today. A bombing earlier yesterday in Quetta, which no group has so far claimed, killed 11 people.

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. Pakistan is also battling an ethnic separatist insurgency in Baluchistan, an area rich in natural resources.

Taliban fighters in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan continue to strike security and civilian targets, adding to a mounting series of security challenges months ahead of a general election scheduled for mid-year.

Rising Toll

In the latest violence in the northwest, a bomb blast killed 22 people attending a religious seminar in the Swat valley yesterday, the English daily newspaper, The News, reported, citing Akhtar Hayat, deputy inspector general of the region.

Pakistan has faced a wave of suicide bombings and attacks since it joined the so-called war on terror after the September, 2001, attacks in the U.S.

More than 3,000 soldiers have been killed and 9,681 wounded in terrorist incidents since 2001, according to the official website of the military’s media wing.

Most of the attacks have been in the country’s northwest where troops are battling militants in the lawless tribal area that borders Afghanistan.

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