A suicide bomber attacked a hospital emergency room where Shiite Muslims were mourning a slain bank manager yesterday, killing eight people including a journalist and two policemen in Pakistan’s main southwest city, police said.
The explosion in Quetta underscored the poor security conditions in Pakistan, a US ally where sectarian violence remains a problem even as al-Qaeda and Taliban militants pose a growing — and linked — threat.
It wasn’t the first time that Shiite mourners have been attacked at hospitals in Pakistan, evidence of a tactic in vogue for their Sunni extremist foes.
Gunshots rang out after the explosion at the Civil Hospital, and rescuers carried away the dead and wounded, TV footage showed.
Among the dead was a cameraman working for Pakistan’s Samaa TV, said Saifuddin Khan, a hospital official. Two policemen also died, while 35 people were wounded in the apparent “sectarian attack,” said Qazi Abdul Wahid, a senior police investigator.
Journalists were at the hospital covering the aftermath of yesterday morning’s shooting of the Shiite bank manager. The emergency room was full of the man’s friends and relatives when the bomber struck at the gate, said Mohammad Sabir, another police official.
Quetta is the capital of Baluchistan Province, and it is believed to be a major center for the leadership of the Afghan Taliban.
However, the violence that occurs in Baluchistan has been blamed on Baluch separatist groups or tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims.
In February, suspected Sunni militants bombed a bus carrying Shiite worshipers and two hours later attacked a hospital treating the victims, killing 25 people and wounding 100 in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi.
And in August 2008, a suicide blast outside the emergency ward of a hospital crowded with Shiite Muslim mourners in the volatile northwest town of Dera Ismail Khan killed at least 27 people, including two police.
Suspected Sunni extremists have also attacked funeral processions of Shiite Muslim mourners.
Extremist Sunnis and Shiites in Pakistan have targeted each other’s leaders in violence that dates well before the 2001 terrorist attacks in the US, but several of Pakistan’s Sunni extremist groups are also allied with the Taliban and al-Qaeda, who view Shiites as infidels.
The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad dates to the seventh century.