Islamabad, Pakistan – At least four policemen have been killed and several others wounded after a bomb attack targeted their vehicles while they stood guard outside a mosque in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province.
The attack on Monday night, third in the region in three days, targeted two police vehicles parked in the Satellite Town area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan, said city police chief Abdul Razzaq Cheema.
“Police vehicles provide security in various parts of the city for Taraweeh prayers [special prayers during Muslims’ holy month of Ramadan],” Cheema told reporters. “As two of these vehicles stopped outside the al-Huda mosque, an explosion took place.”
Twelve people were admitted to the city’s main government hospital following the attack, the hospital spokesperson told Al Jazeera before adding that two of them were suffering from serious head wounds.
Images from the blast site showed blood and glass strewn across the wrecked police vehicles.
The attack comes two days after at least three gunmen stormed a five-star hotel in the southern Balochistan port city of Gwadar, about 700km south of Quetta, killing at least five people and engaging in a gun battle with the military that lasted several hours.
The Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), an armed ethnic Baloch separatist group, claimed responsibility for that attack.
On Saturday, two paramilitary soldiers were injured in an improvised explosive device (IED) blast in the province’s Pishin district, about 70km north of Quetta, local media reported.
The Pakistan Taliban, an armed group that has been fighting since 2007 to impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law in the country, claimed responsibility for the Pishin attack as well as the Monday’s explosion in Quetta.
Balochistan is Pakistan’s largest and least-populated province. It has seen regular violence in recent years, with attacks claimed by Baloch separatists, Pakistan Taliban and local affiliates of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL or ISIS).
It has also seen a series of killings and bombings targeting Quetta’s minority Shia Muslim population, killing more than 509 people, according to government data.
The province, rich in mineral and natural gas reserves, is also the focal point of much of the $60bn China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project’s trade component, with a new port constructed at Gwadar and a network of roads under construction.
The CPEC trade corridor will link southwestern China with the Arabian Sea through Pakistan, culminating in the port at Gwadar.
The Pakistan Taliban has frequently targeted Pakistani security forces and civilians in Balochistan, with attacks increasing in frequency as the group has been displaced from its erstwhile headquarters in Pakistan’s northwestern tribal districts by sustained military operations.
The group is now believed to be based mainly in eastern Afghanistan, carrying out sporadic large-casualty attacks against civilians and government.
Additional reporting by Saadullah Akhtar in Quetta.