Series of blasts in Pakistan kill 115 injure over 270

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A total of 115 people were killed and over 270 injured in six bomb attacks in the restive Pakistani provinces of Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa on Thursday, marking a sharp spurt in terrorist violence ahead of the country’s next general election.

Terrorists targeted a security forces vehicle and a Shi’ite-majority neighbourhood in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan, and a religious congregation in the Swat Valley of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, an erstwhile stronghold of the Taliban.

Eighty-one people died in twin blasts in a bustling billiards hall in a Shi’ite area of the southwestern city of Quetta.

Pakistan’s minority Shi’ite Muslims have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and a militant Sunni group claimed responsibility for Thursday’s deadliest attack — sending a suicide bomber into the packed pool hall and then detonating a car bomb five minutes later.

It was one of the deadliest days in recent years for a country that is no stranger to violence from radical Islamists, militant separatists and criminal gangs.

The billiards hall targeted on Thursday was located in an area dominated by the minority sect. In addition to the 81 dead, more than 120 people were wounded in the double bombing, said police officer Zubair Mehmood. The dead included police officers, journalists and rescue workers who responded to the initial explosion.

As media teams and security forces gathered in the area, another blast went off. Cameraman Imran Sheikh and reporter Saif-ur-Rehman of Samaa TV channel, two police officers and several rescue workers were among the dead.

Several reporters, cameramen and technicians of news channels were injured.

The bombs severely damaged the three-storey building where the pool hall was located and set it on fire. It also damaged nearby shops, homes and offices.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group with strong ties to the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack. Hazara Shi’ites, who migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago, have been the targets of dozens of attacks by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Quetta over the past year, but Thursday’s was by far the bloodiest.

Earlier on Thursday, a bomb targeting paramilitary soldiers in a commercial area in Quetta killed 12 people and wounded more than 40 others.

The bomb was concealed in a bag and placed near a vehicle carrying paramilitary soldiers, said Akbar Hussain Durrani, the provincial interior secretary. The bag was spotted by a local resident, but before the soldiers could react, it was detonated by remote control.

The United Baluch Army, a separatist group, claimed responsibility for the attack in calls to local journalists. Pakistan has faced a violent insurgency in Baluchistan for years from nationalists who demand greater autonomy and a larger share of the country’s natural resources.

Elsewhere in Pakistan, a bomb in a crowded Sunni mosque in the northwest city of Mingora killed 22 people and wounded more than 70, said senior police officer Akhtar Hayyat.

No group claimed responsibility for that attack, but suspicion fell on the Pakistani Taliban, which has waged a bloody insurgency against the government in the Swat Valley, where Mingora is located, and other parts of the northwest.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned Thursday’s multiple attacks and the ongoing terrorist violence in Pakistan, saying “these heinous acts cannot be justified by any cause” and calling for the perpetrators to be brought to justice, UN spokesman Martin Nesirky said.

Human Rights Watch sharply criticised the Pakistani government for not doing enough to crack down on the killings and protect the country’s vulnerable Shi’ite community. It said more than 400 Shi’ites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in 2012, including over 120 in Baluchistan.

Pakistan is scheduled to go to the polls sometime in April or May.

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