A powerful suicide blast apparently targeting the Shia Hazara ethnic minority yesterday killed at least 20 people and wounded 48 at a crowded fruit market in Quetta, officials said.
Body parts littered the scene and injured people screamed for help as black smoke cloaked the market after the explosion.
A faction of the Pakistani Taliban claimed the attack in the capital of Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan Province.
The group said that it collaborated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has been behind numerous bloody attacks on Shiite Muslims in Pakistan.
There was no immediate confirmation from Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
Balochistan — which borders Afghanistan and Iran — is Pakistan’s largest and poorest province, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies.
Balochistan Home Minister Zia Ullah Langu gave the death toll and confirmed that it was a suicide blast, saying that two of the dead were children.
Balochistan Police Chief Mohsin Butt said that eight Hazara were among the victims.
The Hazara, whose Central Asian features make them easily recognizable, are a soft target for Sunni militants, who consider them heretics.
They are so frequently targeted that they are forced to live in two protected enclaves in the city and are given a daily police escort to the market to stock up on supplies.
That was the case yesterday, Butt said.
The bomb detonated near a site where produce was being loaded for distribution around the market.
“I was loading a small truck and I heard a huge bang, and it seemed as if the earth beneath me had shaken and I fell down,” worker Irfan Khan said from his hospital bed.
“The atmosphere was filled with black smoke and I could not see anything; I could hear people screaming for help and I was also screaming for help,” he said, adding that the air was “filled with the stinging smell of burnt human flesh.”
The blast targeted the Hazarganji neighborhood of Quetta, senior police official Abdul Razaq Cheema said.
Hazara make up about 500,000 of the city’s 2.3 million residents.
Amnesty International said that the blast was a “painful reminder” of the many attacks suffered by the Hazara community in Quetta over the years, and called for the government of Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan to give them better protection.
“Each time, there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialize,” Amnesty International deputy director for South Asia Omar Waraich said.
Violence in Pakistan has dropped significantly since the country’s deadliest-ever militant attack, an assault on a school in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2014 that killed more than 150 people, most of them children.
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