Pakistan: Thirteen killed in attack on bus near Quetta

The aftermath of the attack on the bus

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Gunmen have attacked a bus carrying Shia Muslims in south-western Pakistan, killing 13 people and injuring six others, police say.

The attack took place near Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province.

Police said the attackers forced the passengers to stand in a line and fired at them. Eleven of the dead and four of the injured were Shias, say reports.

In recent years, there have been a number of bomb blasts and shootings targeting the minority Shia community.

The BBC's Orla Guerin in Islamabad says that it was a merciless and chilling attack in the morning rush hour and the second sectarian strike in Pakistan in recent weeks.

A fortnight ago, 26 Shia pilgrims were killed by a group of gunmen who opened fire on their bus in Mastung district, in Balochistan.

And a month ago, a suicide cab bomb attack in a parking area of a Shia mosque killed at least 11 people in Quetta. Police said most of the victims were Shia Muslims.

In an interview with the BBC, Pakistani Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that he had written to the Punjab provincial government asking them to take action against anti-Shia militants who are based in Jhang district.

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"Basically I've said that the headquarters of these organisations are in Jhang and the people associated with these organisations roam free delivering speeches," he said.

Mr Malik said that he wanted action taken against such organisations using anti-terrorism laws so "that their movements are restricted and hence their activities will also be curbed".

He also said that he intended to provide security escorts for Shia pilgrims and travellers going overland from Pakistan to Iran.

Largest minority

Following the latest attack, police said the bus had been heading to a vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta where the men were going to work, the Associated Press news agency reported.

Reports said Shia protesters, angered by the attack, had blocked the main highway near Quetta and set fire to the bus which had been attacked.

Shia Muslims are the largest minority in Pakistan and many complain that they have been abandoned by the authorities.

Thousands of Shias and hundreds of Sunnis have been killed since sectarian violence - carried out by hardliners from both groups - first emerged in Punjab, the north-western Kurram tribal region and the town of Dera Ismail Khan in the early 1990s.

The BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad says that sectarian strife only hit Balochistan 10 years ago, but since then more than 600 members of the Shia Hazara community have been killed. Our correspondent says that they have been targeted as much for their ethnicity as for their religion.

Most of the attacks in the past have been blamed on the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LJ) sectarian outfit, a predominantly Punjabi group with links to al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

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