In a ghastly attack reminiscent of the double blasts early last month, a massive bomb ripped though a busy market in a Shia Hazara neighbourhood of Quetta Saturday afternoon, killing at least 67 people and injuring nearly 200.
The outlawed sectarian group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) claimed responsibility for the deadly bombing, which came 36 days after President Asif Ali Zardari imposed governor’s rule in Balochistan as was demanded by the Hazara community.
A water tanker mounted on a tractor-trolley and rigged with hundreds of kilogrammes of explosives was remotely detonated when the market was packed with shoppers. The water tanker was parked near the pillars of a double-storey shopping plaza on Kirani Road next to Hazara Town, which collapsed with the impact of the blast.
“At least 67 people have been killed and 185 injured – some of them critically,” Quetta Commissioner Qambar Dashti told The Express Tribune.
“Most of the victims were from the Shia Hazara community,” Mir Zubair Mehmood, the capital city police officer (CCPO), told reporters. He refused to speculate about the nature of the blast.
Witnesses said the explosion occurred moments after the tractor towing the water tanker turned into a side- street on Kirani Road suggesting that it was being driven by a suicide bomber. However, Wazir Khan Nasir, the deputy inspector general of police, said the explosives were remotely triggered. “The target was the Shia Hazara community,” he added.
The double-storey shopping plaza and dozens of nearby shops were reduced to rubbles. “We fear that several people have been trapped inside. Rescue work is ongoing but I see very little chance of their survival,” CCPO Mehmood said raising fears that the death toll might go up.
According to a Bomb Disposal Squad official, the water tanker was packed with 800-1,000 kilogrammes of explosives. The explosion created a 16 feet long, 14 feet wide and 6 feet deep crater in the middle of the road, he added. “More than two dozen vehicles were also damaged.”
The blast was heard within a radius of 15 kilometres, residents said, adding that windows of several houses were shattered and multi-storey buildings in the neighbourhood shook with the thud of the explosion.
Hazara community members rushed to help the victims much before police and paramilitary Frontier Corps personnel reached the site. Later they were joined by rescuers and fire crew. The casualties were driven to the Bolan Medical College Teaching Hospital and Civil Hospital where a state of emergency was declared. Those with life-threatening wounds were referred to the Combined Military Hospital in the cantonment area.
“We have shifted the casualties, including women and children, to the BMCH, CMH and Civil Hospital,” a rescue worker told The Express Tribune. “Most of the injured were in critical condition.”
Media persons were not allowed near the blast site for security reasons. A purported spokesperson for LeJ, Abu Bakar Sadiq, claimed responsibility for, what he called suicide attack, in a phone call to media offices from an undisclosed location. He identified the bomber as Umar Farooq.
Governor Nawab Zulfikar Magsi announced a Rs100-million reward for information leading to the arrest of perpetrators of the blast. He also announced a monetary compensation of Rs1 million for the heirs of each of the victims.
Incensed by the deadly bombing, hundreds of Hazara community members took to the streets in several neighborhoods, including Brewery Road and Kirani Road. They threw stones at the vehicles and shops to vent their anger.
Shia representative organisations, including Hazara Democratic Party, Majlis-e-Wadat-e-Muslimeen and Tahafuz Hazadari Council, condemned the bomb attack and announced seven-day mourning.
It was the second deadliest bomb attack on the Hazara community in hardly over a month. On January 10, two suicide bombers struck in the Alamdar Road area of Quetta, killing nearly 100 people – most of them Hazaras. Subsequently, the community members held a four-day long vigil, with bodies of victims by their side, which led to the imposition of governor’s rule in the province.
President Asif Zardari, Premier Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, as well as Sindh and Punjab governors denounced the attack. All mainstream political parties, including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, Jamaat-e-Islami and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf also condemned the blast.
Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah also announced a day of mourning across the province on Sunday.
(With additional input from agencies)
Published in The Express Tribune, February 17th, 2013.