Pakistan blasts: Three days of mourning in Balochistan

The BBC's Orla Guerin describes the "utter carnage" at the snooker hall

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Three days of mourning have been announced in the Pakistani province of Balochistan after a series of blasts in the provincial capital Quetta.

Most of the casualties were from twin blasts at a snooker hall which killed at least 80 and injured many others in a predominantly Shia Muslim area.

Among the dead was Quetta-based rights activist, Irfan Ali, reportedly helping those wounded in the first blast.

Earlier, a bomb in a market area killed 11 people and injured 27 more.

Analysis

Even by the blood-soaked standards of Pakistan, the attack on the snooker hall was devastating. The Pakistani media is calling it a bloodbath.

This was a sectarian strike. Most of the dead were members of the minority Shia community. Human rights activists say the government is complicit in the killing of Shia because of its failure to protect them from Sunni militant groups.

Campaigners say the authorities are either in sympathy with Sunni extremists or incompetent and unable to provide basic security. Attacks on Shia have been increasing dramatically, with more than 400 killed last year.

A spokesman for militant group, the United Baloch Army, said it had carried out that bombing.

Mr Ali tweeted that he had narrowly escaped the market blast. But, like many of the casualties of the snooker hall attacks, he was killed as police and media rushed to the scene of the first blast. The Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi said it was behind the blasts.

Balochistan is plagued by both a separatist rebellion and sectarian infighting between Sunnis and Shias.

The Taliban and armed groups that support them also carry out attacks in the province, particularly in areas near the Afghan border. Pakistan's military has been engaged in a long-running battle against those militant groups.

On Friday, Pakistani media reported that a loud explosion had been heard in the Saryab Road area of Quetta, but no more details are available.

Media deaths

A senior police officer, Hamid Shakil, told AFP news agency that a bomb exploded late on Thursday outside the snooker hall building on Alamdar Road and that the second blast occurred 10 minutes later.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi

Local residents gather at the site of the overnight twin suicide bombings in Quetta
  • Founded in the 1990s, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is a Sunni Muslim militant group blamed for a string of sectarian and high profile terror attacks
  • Banned in Pakistan in 2001 and designated a terrorist group by the US in 2003
  • The group has ties to other militant networks such as the Pakistani Taliban
  • It regularly attacks Shia targets, but has also been linked to major attacks such as the 2007 assassination of former PM Benazir Bhutto

The first blast appeared to have been carried out by a suicide bomber on foot, police said, while the second was a car bombing.

"The second blast was a deafening one, and I fell down. I could hear cries and minutes later I saw ambulances taking the injured to the hospital," local resident Ghulam Abbas told the Associated Press.

The dead also included at least two members of a media team and four workers from a private rescue organisation, the Edhi Foundation. At least five policemen also died.

Home Secretary Akbar Durrani told AFP the bombings were in an area dominated by the minority Shia Muslim community.

Mr Shakil said that many of the dead and wounded were Shia, adding that the death toll could rise.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is a banned organisation, said it had carried out the attack.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says the group has in the past targeted the area's ethnic Hazara Shia.

A senior government official told the BBC he believed the bombings were the group's reaction to two incidents on Wednesday - the shooting of Sunni cleric and the seizure of arms and ammunition from a suspected Lashkar-e-Jhangvi hideout.

TV footage of the earlier market attack showed survivors picking through debris, and emergency crews taking away the wounded.

Sunni and Shia Muslims

  • Muslims are split into two main branches, the Sunnis and Shias
  • The split originates in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad over who should lead the Muslim community
  • There are also differences in doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation
  • The great majority of Muslims are Sunnis
  • Pakistan - where Shias are a minority - has a history of sectarian bloodshed dating back to the 1980s

"Frontier Corps [paramilitary] personnel were the target because the bomb was planted underneath their vehicle," Mr Shakil told AFP.

The dead include one paramilitary soldier and two civilian officers.

Also on Thursday, at least 21 people were killed and more than 80 injured in an explosion near Mingora in Pakistan's north-western Swat valley.

The blast took place at a religious gathering.

Police initially said the explosion was caused by a gas canister, but a senior official later said it was a bomb.

Swat has been controlled by the Pakistani army since it drove out the Taliban in 2009, but the militants still carry out attacks, most notably on schoolgirl campaigner Malala Yousufzai last October.

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