A suicide bomber killed at least 22 pilgrims on a bus that was making its way through the Pakistan-Iran highway in Mastung district on Tuesday evening. Another 31 pilgrims, including women and children, were injured in the attack – which was claimed by the outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).
Two buses with 103 pilgrims onboard were en route to Quetta from Taftan, a town in Chagai district that shares a border with Iran, officials said. The bomber struck one of the buses when it reached Dirangar village in Mastung, some 45 kilometres west of Quetta.
“The targeted bus was carrying 51 pilgrims,” Assistant Commissioner Shafqat Shahwani told AFP.
Balochistan Home Secretary Asad Gillani confirmed that it was a suicide attack. “Twenty-two pilgrims were killed and 31 — including women and children — were wounded,” Gillani told The Express Tribune. The bomber managed to hit the bus even though security personnel were escorting the buses.
A senior security official also confirmed that it was a suicide attack. “The bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into the bus,” he told The Express Tribune requesting anonymity. A BDS official said around 100 kilograms of explosive materials were used in the blast.
Earlier Shahwani told AFP that Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) officials suspect the bomb was planted on the roadside and detonated remotely, but he did not rule out the possibility of a suicide attack. He added that the bus driver told the authorities that he did not see any car hitting his vehicle, but felt a sudden blast followed by the cries of women and children amid the destruction.
According to witnesses, the bus was reduced to a heap of mangled metal, while four other vehicles – including two mobile vans of Balochistan Levies, were also damaged in the attack. Windows of the second bus were shattered by the thud of the blast. “The bus caught fire after the explosion. And I saw at least 10 bodies and many injured lying in a pool of blood,” said Arif, who was also wounded in the attack.
Ambulances were rushed from Quetta to ferry the casualties to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH) and other state-run medical facilities of the provincial capital.
“We have declared emergency at the CMH, Provincial Sandeman Hospital and Bolan Medical Complex Teaching Hospital,” DIG Mohammed Jaffar said. However, none of the injured was brought to the Provincial Sandeman Hospital, known as Civil Hospital, for fear of a follow-up attack.
“We have received 31 injured, including 11 women,” a medic at the CMH told The Express Tribune. “Some of the injured are in a critical condition.”
Nooruddin, a purported spokesperson for LeJ, claimed responsibility for the deadly attack in a phone call to Quetta-based news outlets. “We will carry out more such attacks in the future,” he added. The Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen denounced the attack and announced three-day mourning for the victims.
It was the second attack on Shia pilgrims near Quetta in less than a month. On January 1, three people were killed when a suicide bomber attacked bus crammed with pilgrims in Quetta.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the attack and offered condolences to the bereaved families. In separate messages, they called upon the authorities to ensure quality medical assistance to the injured.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 22nd, 2014.