At least two dozen people killed in multiple Pakistan blasts

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Quetta (Pakistan) (AFP) – Multiple blasts killed at least 24 people in two Pakistani cities on the last Friday of Ramadan, Islam’s holiest month, as officials warned the toll could rise.

Authorities said 11 people were killed and 24 wounded when twin blasts tore through a market in a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s tribal belt, crowded with shoppers preparing for the Eid ul-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan.

The first of the two blasts detonated during rush hour in the market in the northwestern city of Parachinar, capital of Kurram tribal district, local official Nasrullah Khan told AFP. 

“When people rushed to the site… to rescue the wounded, a second blast took place,” he said. A second official confirmed the explosions and toll.

“We fear that the death toll will increase,” Khan said, adding that no further details were available yet.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called for security to be beefed up across the country as he condemned the attack, saying that no Muslim could ever imagine committing such a “horrific” act.

The twin blasts in Parachinar followed a bombing earlier in the day outside the office of the police chief in southwestern Quetta, capital of the insurgency-wracked Balochistan province, that killed at least 13 people.

Investigators said the attack targeted police. It was claimed by both the local affiliate of the Islamic State group and by Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), an offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban, according to the SITE monitoring group.

There was no immediate explanation for the dual claims. Islamic State Khorasan Province, the Middle Eastern group’s affiliate in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has been known to work with the myriad of Pakistani militant groups in previous attacks, including with JuA. 

Officials at the city’s Civil Hospital said at least 13 people were killed and around 20 injured, mostly by shrapnel. Police officials said nine policemen were among the dead. 

  • Improved security? –

At the hospital in Quetta, worried children stood by the bloodstained cots of wounded relatives, and Pakistani soldiers visited injured colleagues.

Stunned survivors could give few details about the attack. “I was sitting on a chair. There was an explosion. I got injured and fell down,” said one victim, Gulzar Ahmad. 

Pakistan has waged a long war with militancy, particularly in the tribal northwest, until recently a safe haven for extremists who operated there with impunity, and in Balochistan, where it has been battling Islamist and nationalist insurgencies.

Security has dramatically improved in the country since its deadliest-ever terror attack, an assault on a school in northwestern Peshawar in which Taliban gunmen left more than 150 people dead, most of them children.

That attack shocked a country already grimly accustomed to atrocities, and prompted the military to intensify an operation in the tribal areas targeting militants. 

The army has also been fighting in mineral-rich Balochistan, the country’s most restive province, since 2004, with hundreds of soldiers and militants killed.

Bordering Iran and Afghanistan, it is the largest of Pakistan’s four provinces, but its roughly seven million inhabitants have long complained they do not receive a fair share of its gas and mineral wealth.

A greater push towards peace and development by Pakistani authorities has reduced the violence considerably in recent years.

    <figure><figcaption>The explosion occurred in front of the office of the police chief in Quetta, which is capital of mineral-rich southern Balochistan, a province that is rife with separatist and Islamist insurgency
        <span>Copyright AFP BANARAS KHAN</span>
      </figcaption></figure>