Gun and suicide attack kills 23 near Pakistan-Iran border

QUETTA, Pakistan (AFP) - At least 23 people including several Shiite pilgrims were killed in a gun and suicide attack on the restive Pakistan-Iran border late on Sunday night, Pakistani officials said, in the latest assault on the beleaguered minority sect.

The attack came when a bus carrying Pakistani pilgrims returning from a visit to holy Muslim sites in Iran stopped at a restaurant in the Pakistani town of Taftan in Baluchistan province, around 700 kilometres southwest of the provincial capital Quetta.

Akbar Durrani, the provincial home secretary said: "Twenty-three pilgrims were killed in the suicide attack in Taftan. Seven were injured including six women and one child."

He had earlier stated that the dead included security personnel.

Addressing a press conference, Durrani said four suicide bombers attacked two restaurants full of pilgrims.

One suicide bomber was shot dead trying to enter one of the restaurants while the other three managed to enter a second restaurant and blow themselves up.

The total number of pilgrims in the area was 300.

"The seven injured people were taken to Iran for medical aid after a special request to the Iranian consulate in Quetta. The rest of the 270 pilgrims will be taken to Quetta in tight security tomorrow," he said, adding the Shiites were from "all over Pakistan".

No group has yet come forward to claim the attack.

Two devastating bombings in Quetta killed nearly 200 people last year and were claimed by banned Sunni extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), which has links to Al-Qaeda.

Nearly 1,000 Shiites have been killed in the past two years in Pakistan, a heavy toll on the community that makes up roughly 20 per cent of the country's population of 180 million, which is predominantly Muslim.

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