QUETTA, Pakistan — Bomb blasts in Pakistan’s southwestern city of Quetta and the Swat valley in the northwest killed at least 118 people Thursday, in one of the worst series of attacks in recent months as the country struggles to contain sectarian and ethnic violence, officials said Friday.
At least 96 people were killed and more than 100 injured in three attacks in Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, city police chief Mir Zubir told reporters.
“Militants are looking for opportunities and unfortunately today they succeeded,” he said in televised comments yesterday.
Of those killed in Quetta, 85 died in twin nighttime blasts minutes apart at a billiards club which the Dawn newspaper said were carried out by the banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e- Jhangvi, citing a call from an unknown spokesman.
The Alamdar Road area where the attacks took place is heavily populated with Shiites from the Afghan Hazara ethnic community, it said. Two journalists from a private television channel, Samma, and six police officers were also killed.
Attacks on Shiites are common in Pakistan, where the community accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s 200 million people. This year, militants linked to Pakistan’s Taliban movement have targeted Hazara Shiites.
At least 400 Shiites died in attacks in 2012 in Pakistan, according to a statement Thursday from New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 120 were killed in Baluchistan, most of them Hazara, it said.
“The Pakistani government’s persistent failure to protect the minority Shia Muslim community in Pakistan from sectarian attacks by Sunni militant groups, is reprehensible and amounts to complicity in the barbaric slaughter of Pakistani citizens,” the group said in yesterday’s statement.
Shiite religious processions and mosques have been attacked in cities across the country, including a blast in Rawalpindi, home to the nation’s military headquarters, that killed more than 20 people in November.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or the Army of Jhang, a city in Punjab province, is an organization of Islam’s Sunni Deobandi sect and has conducted scores of bombings and shootings against minority Shiites in Pakistan.
The State Department in 2003 listed it as a terrorist group, saying it had links to al-Qaida and was involved with the 2002 kidnapping-murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
The first of the two blasts at the Quetta club yesterday injured several people. A more powerful explosion then occurred as media teams covered the first incident and police and people helped victims from the earlier detonation.
Dozens of vehicles and shops were destroyed by the bombs.
U.S. Ambassador to Islamabad Richard Olson condemned the “senseless and inhumane acts” in a statement Friday.
The United States and Afghanistan have long alleged that the remaining leadership of the Afghan Taliban is based around Quetta, after fleeing there following the U.S.-led invasion. Pakistan is also battling an ethnic separatist insurgency in Baluchistan.
The attacks come as Pakistan’s army battles Taliban fighters in the northwestern tribal region bordering Afghanistan, and months ahead of a general election scheduled for mid-year.
In the latest violence in the northwest, a bomb blast killed 22 people attending a religious seminar in the Swat valley Thursday, the English daily newspaper, The News, reported, citing Akhtar Hayat, deputy inspector general of the region.
Pakistan has faced a wave of suicide bombings and attacks since it joined the so-called war on terror after the September, 2001, attacks in the United States.
More than 3,000 soldiers have been killed and 9,681 wounded in terrorist incidents since 2001, according to the official website of the military’s media wing.
Most of the attacks have been in the country’s northwest where troops are battling militants in the lawless tribal area that borders Afghanistan.
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