Pakistan market bomb kills 16, half of them minority Hazaras

The blast took place at Hazar Ganji, a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta. PHOTO: AFP

QUETTA, PAKISTAN (REUTERS) - A bomb hidden between bags of potatoes at an outdoor Pakistani market killed at least 16 people on Friday (April 12), half of them ethnic Hazaras, officials said, in an attack apparently aimed at minority Shi'ite Muslims.

At least 30 people were wounded in the blast in the southwestern city of Quetta, the capital of resource-rich Balochistan province, officials said.

Balochistan is the focus of the US$57 billion (S$77.30 billion) China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a transport and energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistan's southern deepwater port of Gwadar.

The attack came after a lull of at least a year in violence against the mainly Shi'ite Hazara minority in Balochistan, though there have been isolated shootings.

The blast took place at Hazar Ganji, a fruit and vegetable market on the outskirts of Quetta.

"I have confirmation of 16 martyrs - eight belong to the Hazara community, seven others who worked here, and one is from the Frontier Constabulary," city police official Abdul Razzaq Cheema told reporters.

The explosive device was hidden between sacks of potatoes, he said.

No group immediately claimed responsibility.

Hazaras have been frequently targeted by Taleban and Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants and other Sunni Muslim militant groups in both Pakistan and Afghanistan.

They have been heavily targeted in Afghanistan in attacks claimed by an affiliate of ISIS.

Ethnic Baloch separatists are also fighting against what they call the unfair exploitation of their province's gas and other resources.

"This seems to have been sponsored from across the border,"Balochistan Home Minister Zia Langove told Reuters, referring to neighbouring Afghanistan. "It is aimed to disturb peace, which to a great extent, has been achieved in Balochistan."

In 2013, three bombings killed more than 200 people in Hazara neighbourhoods, prompting security forces to escort Hazara buses to the market. The same practice was followed on Friday, but the blast took place in the market.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.