Pakistan market blast toll rises

2013-02-16 22:14
Smoke rises following a bomb explosion targeting Shi'ite Muslims in Quetta, Pakistan. (Banaras Khan, AFP)

Smoke rises following a bomb explosion targeting Shi'ite Muslims in Quetta, Pakistan. (Banaras Khan, AFP)

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Quetta - A bomb hidden in a water tank ripped through a crowded vegetable market in a mostly Shi'ite neighbourhood in a south-western Pakistani city on Saturday, killing at least 65 people and wounding nearly 200, officials said.

Police said many of those wounded in the explosion in Quetta remain in critical condition.

The blast, which police said targeted the country's minority Shi'ite Muslim sect, left many victims buried under rubble, but authorities did not know how many.

It was the deadliest incident since bombings targeting Shi'ites in the same city killed 86 people earlier this year, leading to days of protests that eventually toppled the local government.

Shi'ites have been increasingly attacked by militant groups who view them as heretics and non-Muslims in this Sunni Muslim dominated country. Many of the Shi'ites in Quetta, including those in the neighbourhood attacked on Saturday, are Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan more than a century ago.

Building collapsed

Quetta police chief Zubair Mahmood told reporters that the bomb was hidden in a water tank and towed into the market by a tractor. He said the blast destroyed shops in the neighbourhood and caused a two-storey building to collapse.

"We fear some victims may be found buried there," he said.

Mahmood said police did not yet know who was behind the bombing but a local television station reported that Lashker-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group that has targeted Shi'ites in the past, had called to claim responsibility.

Senior police officer Wazir Khan Nasir said the bomb, set off in a residential suburb, was detonated by remote control.

Another officer, Samiullah Khan, said the bomb was detonated while dozens of women and children were buying produce for their evening meal. Local residents rushed the victims to three different area hospitals, often in private vehicles because there weren't enough ambulances to transport the victims.

A massive plume of white smoke rose over the area after the bomb blast. Television footage of the scene showed the streets littered with rubble from destroyed buildings, mixed with fruits and vegetables and shattered street carts.

Near one of the hospitals where the dead and wounded were taken, a man stood weeping as people were being taken in on stretchers.

"Look at our misery! We are helpless," he said.


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