In yet another attack targeting Shia Muslims in Pakistan, militants belonging to outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group today stormed a bus carrying members from the minority community, gunning down at least 13 of them and injuring seven more in the restive Balochistan province.
Three gunmen travelling in a pick-up truck stopped the bus with about 30 passengers in Akhtarabad area on the outskirts of provincial capital Quetta, witnesses said.
Two gunmen then entered the bus and fired indiscriminately, they said. Thirteen men, most of them Shia Hazaras, were killed and seven others injured, police said. The injured were taken to the Bolan Medical Complex and those with critical wounds were shifted to Quetta's military hospital.
Officials described the condition of three of the injured as serious. The attackers fled from the area before it was cordoned off by police and paramilitary Frontier Corps personnel. Witnesses said all the slain men were labourers who were going to a fruit and vegetable market for work. Ali Sher Haidry, a spokesman for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, telephoned reporters in Quetta and claimed responsibility for the killings. Haidry had made similar claims for attacks on Shias in the past.
The claim came hours after the Chief Justice of Balochistan High Court banned the publication of threatening statements from militants. City police chief Ahsan Mehboob removed a police officer from his post for failing to provide security to the bus in the wake of several attacks on vehicles carrying Shia Hazaras in Quetta and nearby areas.
A large number of Hazaras gathered at the Bolan Medical Complex and staged a protest against the attack. The bus that was attacked was set on fire by angry protesters. Protesters shouted slogans against the police and the government for their failure to prevent attacks on Shias.
Some protesters accused the authorities of being in league with terrorists and demanded a targeted operation and a crackdown on those who were attacking the Hazaras. Police said security has been stepped up at all exit points of Quetta to prevent the attackers fleeing the city. Dozens of Hazaras, who stand out from the local population because of their distinct features, have been killed in sectarian attacks over the past few months.
Nearly 30 Hazaras were killed in attacks on a bus carrying Shia pilgrims and another vehicle near Quetta last month. Six more pilgrims were killed within Quetta city. The pilgrims were heading to neighbouring Iran to visit shrines and sacred places.
The Shia Ulema Council, Hazara Democratic Party, Tahaffuz-e-Azadari Council and the local chapter of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement condemned today's attack. The Shia Ulema Council called for three days of mourning. Members of Parliament condemned the targeted killings of Hazaras in Quetta severely criticised the Balochistan government for failing to protect the community.
Some lawmakers demanded the imposition of Governor's Rule in Balochistan. Speaking in the National Assembly or lower house of Parliament on a point of order, ruling PPP lawmaker Farahnaz Ispahani condemned the killing of the Hazaras in Quetta and urged Interior Minister Rehman Malik to take notice of the law and order situation in Balochistan. The killings were also condemned by Parliamentarians from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, PML-N and PML-Q.