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Central & South Asia

Scores dead in Pakistan sectarian attack

At least 84 people killed in attack on vegetable market that targeted Hazara Shias in southwestern city of Quetta.
Last Modified: 17 Feb 2013 11:08

A bomb in southwestern Pakistan has killed at least 84 people and left more than 200 others injured, rights activists and officials say.

The death toll rose on Sunday, after more bodies were pulled overnight from the rubble left in the wake of the explosion, officials said.

Local community leaders told Al Jazeera that rescue workers and victims' families were still identifying bodies, and that the death toll was likely to rise further.

Quetta attacks
Since January 10, more than 204 people have died in attacks in the southwestern city. The majority of the victims have been from the Shia minority.

 January 10: 117 killed, over 200 injured Alamdar Road
 January 12: 2 killed on Brewery Road
 January 15: 3 killed in Bakra Mandi
 January 19: 4 killed in Khameesa Khan Bugti area
 January 21: 3 killed near Saryab Road
 January 23: 1 killed in fighting
 January 24: 2 barbers killed
 January 25: 7 bodies found outside Quetta
 February 7: 3 killed in Archar Road gunfight
 February 9: 1 killed in Kachlak
 February 16: At least 84 killed in Hazara Town

The improvised explosive device, which was attached to a vehicle outside a vegetable market in Quetta, targeted Pakistan's minority Shia population.

The vehicle was packed with about 800kg of explosives, and caused nearby buildings to collapse, officials said.

Activists say women and children were shopping for groceries in the Hazara Town enclave at the time of the attack.

"Rescuers and volunteers are hesitant to go near the blast site for fear of another explosion", Haider Changezi, a Shia Muslim activist in Pakistan, told Al Jazeera at the time of the explosion.

The fear of follow-up attacks targeting the Hazara Shia population comes a month after twin blasts killed at least 90 people on Alamdar Road, another mainly Hazara area of the provincial capital of Balochistan.

Many of the wounded were in critical condition, hospital officials said, leading to fears that the death toll could rise still further.

Al Jazeera's Imtiaz Tyab, reporting from Islamabad, said the entire area of the attack in Hazara Town has been cordoned off by security officials.

Syed Qamar Haider Zaidi, a spokesman for local Shia Muslim groups, condemned the Pakistani government for not providing protection to the community and announced three days of mourning and protest over the attack.

Sectarianism

Hazara Town, one of two Hazara enclaves in Quetta, is considered to be less economically affluent than Alamdar Road, and on Saturday it was "poor families [who] suffered", Changezi told Al Jazeera.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, the armed pro-Sunni sectarian group, claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack.

The group also carried the January 10 twin bombings that killed more than 90 and led to a 76-hour sit-in demanding protection from the targeted killings. It has been banned since 2001.

Pakistani expert discusses the country's sectarian tensions

Malik Siraj Akbar, the US-based editor of Balochistan's first English news website, The Baloch Hal, told Al Jazeera that the Pakistani government has not had a policy of countering sectarianism in the southwestern region, which is a base for Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and other armed Sunni groups.

"The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an offshoot or supporter of the Taliban which wants the Shias in Balochistan to either convert to Sunni Islam or leave Balochistan or Pakistan, operates allegedly with Pakistani security establishment [support]," he said.

"Just last month, Human Rights Watch came up with a report that blamed the Pakistani military for supporting the Sunni militant groups."

Last year was the deadliest so far for Pakistan's Shia Muslim community, which accounts for about 20 percent of the population, with more than 400 people dead in targeted killings.

Violence has been especially intense in Balochistan.

Security forces 'failure'

After last month's attack on Alamdar Road, the families of the victims refused to bury their dead, holding a 76-hour sit-in until their demand for the provincial government to be sacked was met.

The government also accorded police powers to local paramilitary forces and enforced Governor Rule in the province in response to that attack.

Hazara activists allege that the paramilitary forces are complicit in the attacks against them.

"Governor rule may have come, but the administration is the same," said Qayyum Changaizee, the chairman of the Hazara Qaumi Jirga, adding that no additional security had been accorded to the community since the January attacks.

Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the governor of Balochistan, placed the blame for the lapse squarely on provincial security forces.

"The terrorist attack on the Hazara Shia community in Quetta is a failure of the intelligence and security forces," Magsi said while touring a hospital. "We had given a free hand to security [forces] to take action against terrorist and extremist groups, but despite that the Quetta incident took place."

Azizullah Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, on Sunday gave a 48-hour deadline to the provincial government to launch targeted operations against the killers or face a protest movement.

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Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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