Explosion in Crowded Market Kills Dozens in Pakistan

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KARACHI, Pakistan -- A devastating explosion ripped through a crowded market in the western city of Quetta on Saturday, killing at least 63 people and wounding at least 180, the police said.

The attack occurred in a neighborhood dominated by Hazaras, a Shiite ethnic minority that has suffered numerous attacks at the hands of Sunni militant death squads in recent years.

A previous attack on Jan. 10, when a Sunni group bombed a snooker hall in Quetta, killed almost 100 Hazaras, prompting domestic and international outrage.

The police said that Saturday's bomb was apparently set off by a remote-controlled device, possibly hidden in a rickshaw. The explosion caused a building to collapse and the death toll to rise sharply.

Late Saturday, Mir Zubair Mehmood, the police chief of Quetta, said that the blast had killed at least 63 people, and The Associated Press later reported that the death toll had grown to 81. Mr. Mehmood said that the bomb contained 800 to 1,000 kilograms (as much as 2,220 pounds) of explosives. Local hospitals declared an emergency as rescue efforts were hampered by angry crowds at the bomb site, where distraught Hazaras prevented the police, reporters and rescuers from reaching the scene.

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf quickly condemned the attack, emphasizing the government's resolve to fight "such dastardly acts" and vowing to bring the perpetrators to justice.

But the seeming ease with which the bombers struck, just one month after a similar sectarian atrocity in the same city, underscored the inability of Pakistan's security forces to counter the threat from extremist groups as the country moves toward general elections expected to take place by mid-May.

After the January attack, Mr. Ashraf flew to Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan Province, to meet with Hazara families who protested in the streets for four days, sleeping beside the coffins of the bombing victims to protest the government's inaction.

That protest captured the sympathies of Pakistanis across the country, and helped galvanize political opinion against a growing problem of sectarian attacks on minority Shiites in Quetta, Karachi and northwestern Pakistan.

Standing at the protest site, Mr. Ashraf announced that the government was dissolving the provincial government and handing control to the provincial governor -- a move Hazaras had hoped would stop the sectarian bloodshed.

But Saturday's attack shows that extremists can still operate with impunity in Baluchistan, Pakistan's largest but most sparsely populated province.

Baluchistan is plagued by several conflicts, including sectarian attacks on Shiites, a nationalist insurgency and ethnically motivated killings. It is also home to Afghan Taliban insurgents who use the province to carry out attacks inside Afghanistan.

The largest sectarian group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, is widely believed to be based in the town of Mastung, south of Quetta. Few of its members have been captured or arrested.

Human rights groups accuse the powerful Pakistani military of tacit collusion with the sectarian groups, who have reportedly helped the military quell the nationalist insurgency.

The military vehemently denies those accusations and says its forces are overstretched in the region. After the January bombing, responsibility for security in Quetta was handed to the paramilitary Frontier Corps, which vowed to dismantle the sectarian groups.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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