SHAFAQNA- At least 20 people have been killed in an terror attack in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta on Friday. At least nine of the dead were Hazaras, a Shiite Muslim minority.
An additional 48 people were wounded in the Friday blast which occurred in the capital of the country’s restive Baluchistan province.
The bomb was hidden among bags of potatoes at a vegetable market on the outskirts of the city.
The Lashkar-e-Jhangvi terrorist group, which has targeted the Hazara community in the past, claimed responsibility for the attack.
“We claim responsibility for the attack in Quetta,” said a spokesman for the group named Qari Saifullah, speaking to CNN.
“We targeted the Hazara community,” he stressed.
The bombing came after a lull of at least a year in terrorist attacks, though there have been isolated shootings targeting the Hazaras.
Balochistan’s chief minister Jam Kamal responded to the incident saying that the country “will not bow before terrorists” in a statement.
Qadir Ali, a provincial lawmaker who is Hazara, said in an interview that apprehension among Hazaras had increased since the bombing.
“At least 250,000 Hazara people live in Hazara Town, and each day many vehicles made the trip to and from the vegetable market that was attacked”, Mr. Ali said.
He urged the government to increase security, and said that he thought the attack was intended “to create tensions between different ethnicity living in Quetta.”
“In recent months, Hazara people had started feeling safer and started commuting to different parts of the city,” he said. “But the bombing today seems an attempt to force us into isolation.”
The attack was widely condemned by government officials and rights groups.
“This horrific loss of life is a painful reminder of the threats that Quetta’s Hazara community continues to face,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “Each time, there are promises that more will be done to protect them, and each time those promises have failed to materialize”, nytimes reported.
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan echoed the condemnation. In a tweet he wrote: “Deeply saddened & have strongly condemned the terrorist attack in Hazarganji market area of Quetta targeting our innocent people. I have asked for an immediate inquiry & increased security for the (people). Prayers go to the families of the victims & for early recovery of the injured”, CNN told.
The attack was also condemned by Iran’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi who expressed solidarity with the victims’ families.
“The security and stability of our neighbors, especially Pakistan, is of great importance for the Islamic Republic of Iran and I hope the government and nation of Pakistan can diffuse the plot set out by adversaries and enemies of the region by preserving their unity and vigilance,” he said.
Many Hazaras originally fled from Afghanistan during decades of conflict in the country.
The community has been frequently targeted by Taliban and Daesh militants and other Takfiri terrorist groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In 2013, three separate bombings killed more than 200 people in different Hazara neighborhoods.
After a series of attacks in Quetta, security forces started escorting Hazara buses to the market. The same procedure was carried out on Friday, but the blast took place inside the market.
Baluchistan is the focus of numerous projects in the $57 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a transport and energy transit route planned to link western China to Pakistan’s southern deepwater port of Gwadar, press tv reported.
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