AP News

Pakistani Shiites protest after attack kills 86


QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Shiite Muslims hit by a twin bombing that killed 86 people refused to bury their dead Friday, demanding the Pakistani government do more to protect them from increasing violence against the minority sect.

The attack on a billiards hall Thursday night in the southwestern city of Quetta marked a bloody start to the new year after a human rights group said 2012 was the deadliest ever for Shiites in the majority Sunni Muslim country.

Many of the attacks last year were carried out by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a militant group allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban that also claimed responsibility for the bombing of the billiards hall. The attack was one of three that took place across Pakistan on Thursday, killing 120 people in the country's deadliest day in five years.

The billiards hall was located in a predominantly Shiite area, and most of the dead and wounded were from the sect. Members of the beleaguered Shiite community laid about 50 of their dead on the street Friday, saying they would not bury them until the government improves security in the area. Islamic custom dictates the dead should be buried as soon possible.

Young Shiite men also set tires on fire and blocked a nearby road in protest.

"We want safety for all our sects, and all security measures should be taken for our safety, said Fida Hussain, a relative of one of the victims. "We will not bury them until the government fulfills all our demands."

The Shiites finally ended their protest and agreed to bury the dead late Friday after hours of negotiation with police and government officials, who promised to provide greater protection and arrest the killers, said senior police officer Hamid Shakeel.

Rights groups have also accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites in the country. Human Rights Watch on Thursday accused the Pakistani military and other security agencies of "callousness and indifference" when it came to the killing of Shiites.

Pakistan's intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to operate fairly freely.

The billiards hall bombing started with a suicide attack followed by a car blast minutes later. Militants often use such staggered bombings to maximize the body count by targeting rescuers and others who rush to the scene after the first explosion.

On Friday, Shiite volunteers erected tents to keep bystanders away from the severely damaged building, where the pool hall once occupied the basement.

Nearby resident Jan Ali described it as a neighborhood gathering spot where young and old often waited in line to play on its six tables.

After the attack, "it was a scene like hell on Earth," said Ali. "Rescue people were carrying out dead and injured, people bleeding and crying, and rushing them toward ambulances. I have never seen such a horrifying situation in my life."

One of those killed was a young human rights activist named Irfan Ali.

"He was a very active, energetic activist," said Tahir Hussain, a lawyer and vice chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan's Baluchistan chapter. He said Ali was associated with the HRCP for the last 10 years, often writing about social issues and oppression of the Shiite Hazara community. Ethnic Hazaras migrated from Afghanistan more than a century ago and have been the targets of dozens of attacks over the past year, but Thursday's was by far the bloodiest.

Ali appeared to have been killed during the second explosion after he rushed to the scene to help, said Hussain. On his Twitter feed before the attack, Ali wrote about Hazara families who were leaving the area in fear.

Many residents railed at the government over the repeated acts of violence.

"This government has totally failed in protecting us," said Abbas Ali, who was collecting items from the rubble of his nearby shop, also destroyed in the blast. "Somehow we will get compensation for our losses but those who have gone away will not come back."

Five victims of the billiards hall attack died of their wounds overnight, said Shakeel, who put the death toll at 86.

The strike was the worst of three deadly bombings targeting Shiites and soldiers in Quetta and worshippers at a Sunni mosque in the northwest on the same day.

It appeared to be Pakistan's worst day of violence since October 2007, when 150 were killed in a bombing aimed at Pakistani politician Benazir Bhutto. She survived the blast but was assassinated two months later.

Last year was the bloodiest year for Pakistan's Shiite community, with over 400 members of the sect killed in targeted attacks throughout the country, according to Human Rights Watch.

Violence has been especially intense in southwest Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital and the country's largest concentration of Shiites live. More than 120 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Baluchistan in 2012.

In Quetta on Friday, suspected militants fired rocket-propelled grenades at a terminal where trucks carrying supplies to NATO troops in neighboring Afghanistan were parked, said Shakeel, the senior police officer. The attack killed two people, wounded another and set 10 trucks ablaze.

___

Abbot reported from Islamabad. Associated Press writers Zarar Khan and Rebecca Santana in Islamabad contributed to this report.


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