The death toll in the devastating bomb attack that targeted Shia Hazaras in Quetta city of southwestern Pakistan today rose to 84, even as the minority community threatened protests if security forces did not act against militant groups within 48 hours.
About forty people were killed instantly when nearly a tonne of explosives, hidden in a water tank loaded on a tractor-trolley, were detonated in a busy market at Kirani Road in Hazara Town, a suburb of Quetta, yesterday evening, the latest in a series of deadly sectarian attacks in Quetta.
Several seriously injured people died in hospital overnight and rescue workers dug out bodies from the debris of buildings flattened by the blast that was heard all over Quetta, the capital of the restive Balochistan province.
The explosion created a crater six feet deep and nearly 20 feet long.
Officials said they feared the death toll could rise further as 20 of the injured were in a critical condition.
Nearly 200 people were wounded and authorities made arrangements to airlift those with serious injuries to Karachi.
Some reports said about 800 kg of explosives were used in the attack, for which the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility.
LeJ spokesman Abubakar Siddique told reporters by phone: "Our suicide bomber carried out the blast and the Shia community in Hazara Town was the target."
There was no official word on whether a suicide bomber was involved in the incident, which was the deadliest attack on Quetta's Shia Hazaras since 92 members of the community were killed in twin suicide bombings on January 10.
Three days after the last attack, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf acceded to demands from Shia groups and imposed Governor's Rule after sacking the Balochistan government.
Yesterday's deadly attack dominated the front pages of newspapers, with the report in the Dawn headlined "Terror comes back to haunt Hazaras" while the headline in The News read: "Hazaras face yet another pogrom".
Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Ali Magsi criticised security forces for failing to prevent the attack.
"The terrorist attack on the Hazara Shia community in Quetta is a failure of the intelligence and security forces," he said while visited the injured at a hospital.
"We had given a free hand to security (forces) to take action against terrorist and extremist groups, but despite that the Quetta incident took place," he said. A strike was observed in Quetta to protest the attack.
The strike was called by the Majlis-e-Wahdat Muslimeen and the Hazara Democratic Party.
Azizullah Hazara, vice-chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, said the party would launch more protests if security forces did not carry out targeted operations against militant groups within 48 hours.
Hundreds of Shias joined a protest at Hazara Town.
Protests were also organised by Shias and rights groups in cities across Pakistan, including Islamabad, Lahore, Hyderabad, Mirpur Mathelo and Khairpur Nathan Shah. The Balochistan government announced a day of mourning while Shia groups asked people to observe seven days of mourning.
Shias, especially the Hazaras who stand out due to their distinctive features, have been increasingly attacked by militant groups like the LeJ and Sipah-e-Sahaba that describe them as heretics and non-Muslims.
Shias make up 20 per cent of Sunni-majority Pakistan’s population of 180 million.
According to Human Rights Watch, over 400 Shias were killed in targeted attacks across Pakistan last year.
The rights group said over 125 were killed in Balochistan province, most of whom Hazaras.