In a fresh spurt of sectarian violence targeting Shias, at least 11 people were killed in Balochistan on Saturday; taking the toll over the past 24 hours to 19. The banned outfit, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) — which has targeted Shias in the past as part of its agenda to turn Pakistan into a Sunni state — had claimed responsibility for Friday's attack on the office of a private transport company where pilgrims were awaiting for a coach to take them to Iran.
Though no one had claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack on a van carrying people to Quetta from Hazara Town area, police suspect this to be part of the sectarian violence as the victims were Shias again. According to Balochistan's Inspector General Police Amin Hashim, unidentified gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire at the van; resulting in the death of seven people on the spot and four others en route the hospital.
Following this spurt in violence, police raided various places in sensitive areas and rounded up over 200 persons for interrogation. The attacks led to protests across Quetta; resulting in arson. Pained by the continuing sectarian violence in different parts of the country, civil society drew a connection between this spurt and the recent release of LeJ chief Malik Ishaq.
An accused in the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in Lahore, Ishaq's family was apparently being provided financial assistance by the Punjab Government.
After the attack, hundreds of Shia Muslims gathered on Barori Road in protest, chanting slogans against the government and the police for their failure to check sectarian killings.
The angry protesters also blocked the main road.
They torched vehicles and shops outside a hospital, where several bodies of the slain persons were taken along and the injured persons admitted.
Additional police force was deployed in the city to check any reaction, a senior police officer said, adding the situation was now under control.
All dead bodies were taken to the central Shia mosque ’Imambargah Hazara Town’ Shia leaders also held an emergency meeting to chalk out future plans to protect their community against similar attacks.
Rahim Jaffry, a leader of the Shia community, said protests will be launched across the country if those responsible for the killings in Quetta were not arrested within 24 hours.
He said the government had failed to protect lives and the community was left with no option but to launch protests.
Shia groups also announced a shutter down strike in Quetta for Sunday and a 40-day mourning against the killing.
Quetta has witnessed a series of bomb blasts and sectarian and targeted attacks in recent weeks.
The Shia community accounts for around 15 per cent of the country’s population of over 170 million.