Published on 17 Jan 2013 | over 4 years ago
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Bomb blasts in two Pakistani cities killed at least 115 people on Thursday and wounded more than 270, offering harrowing evidence of how the country's myriad internal conflicts could destabilize it as elections approach.
The worst violence occurred in the southwestern city of Quetta, where two explosions a few minutes apart in the evening ripped through a snooker hall in a neighborhood dominated by ethnic Hazara Shiites, killing at least 81 people and wounding more than 170, the police said.
A suicide bomber detonated his explosives inside the hall, and a second attacker then blew up his vehicle outside the club as police officers and journalists arrived, a senior police officer, Mir Zubair Mehmood, told reporters. Five police officers and one camera operator were killed in the second explosion. Hospitals were overwhelmed as casualties arrived through the evening.
Hazara leaders said it was the worst sectarian attack in Quetta since attacks on their community started about 14 years ago.
Quetta is no stranger to sectarian, nationalist or Islamist violence. Most violence against Shiites there has been directed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni militant group with strong ties to the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the snooker hall attack. Snooker is a variation of billiards.
An ethnic Baluch separatist group claimed responsibility for another bombing earlier on Thursday, aimed at paramilitary soldiers in a commercial part of Quetta, which killed 12 people.
The Hazara, minority Shiites who migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago, have been the target of dozens of attacks from sectarian death squads led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in Quetta over the past year, but the snooker hall bombing was by far the bloodiest.
Human rights activists said the police and the security forces failed to protect the vulnerable community. "The callousness and indifference of the authorities offers a damning indictment of the state, its military and security agencies," said Ali Dayan Hasan, the Pakistan director at Human Rights Watch.
The other focus of violence on Thursday was the Swat Valley, in northwestern Pakistan, where an explosion at a religious seminary killed at least 22 people and wounded an additional 60. It was not clear why the seminary, run by the Islamic missionary group Tablighi Jamaat, was a target.
Initial reports said a gas leak had caused the explosion, but police and hospital officials later said that there was clear evidence of a bomb.
Doctors at a hospital in Saidu Sharif, near the site, said blast victims were being treated for wounds caused by ball bearings, which are sometimes packed into suicide bombs to make them more deadly.
"There was a smell of explosives," Muhammad Iqbal, a senior doctor, said by telephone.
Islamist violence in Swat drew international condemnation in October after Taliban gunmen shot a teenage girl and education activist, Malala Yousafzai. The episode highlighted how Islamist fighters were slowly returning to the valley three years after a Pakistani military operation drove them away.
The violence underscores the fragility of state authority in parts of Pakistan as the country prepares for a general election that is scheduled to take place before June. Many Pakistanis worry that instability could cause the elections to be postponed.