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Bomb Kills at Least 19 Shiite Pilgrims in Pakistan

By SALMAN MASOOD, ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (NY Times): At least 19 Shiite pilgrims, including four women, were killed Sunday when their convoy of three buses in southwestern Pakistan was struck by a remotely detonated bomb, officials said. At least 25 other people were wounded in the attack in the Mastung district of Baluchistan Province.

Earlier Sunday, government officials said they had discovered the bodies of 21 tribal police officers who were kidnapped by the Taliban last week in northwestern Pakistan.

The pilgrims were on their way to Shiite holy sites in neighboring Iran when the attack occurred. A pickup truck filled with explosives was detonated by remote control as the pilgrims’ convoy passed by on Sunday morning. The explosion destroyed one bus and damaged the other two. The wounded were taken to a hospital in the provincial capital, Quetta, officials said.

“Most of the dead bodies are completely burnt,” said Maj. Nadir Ali, a retired army officer and a senior leader in the ethnic Hazara community.

Major Ali said the pilgrims had traveled from different cities and stayed in Quetta overnight before embarking on the 500-mile journey to Zahedan, Iran.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Muslims of the Shiite sect have repeatedly been singled out by extremist Sunni militants belonging to the banned group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has links to Pakistani Taliban militants in the tribal areas.

Pakistan’s Shiites have long complained that despite repeated assurances, the government has offered inadequate security and failed to protect them. In Baluchistan Province, sectarian attacks have often been directed at the ethnic Hazaras, a Persian-speaking Shiite minority. More than 300 Shiites, many from the ethnic Hazara community, have been killed in Baluchistan since 2008, according to Human Rights Watch.

Major Ali, the Hazara leader, said the Mastung district was a particularly dangerous point on the trip to Iran because Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had a strong presence there. In September 2011, militants there dragged 26 Hazara men and boys from a bus headed to Iran and executed them.

“Security is not satisfactory,” Major Ali said.

In northwestern Pakistan, 21 police officers who had been captured by Taliban militants were found shot to death late Saturday night on the outskirts of Peshawar, government officials said Sunday.

The bodies were lined up in a field and had been shot at close range, the officials said. One officer was found wounded and was taken to a hospital.

The officers, who belonged to a tribal police force, were abducted Thursday after hundreds of Taliban militants, armed with heavy weapons, attacked three security checkpoints on the outskirts of Peshawar.

Government officials had asked local elders to help them negotiate the release of the police officers, but those efforts were unsuccessful.

A group affiliated with the Taliban that operates in the Darra Adam Khel region claimed responsibility for the abduction of the officers.

Pakistani analysts say independent groups of militants are battling the security forces, complicating an already difficult battle against terrorism and militancy.

Last week, Hakimullah Mehsud, the leader of the Pakistani Taliban, appeared in a video and laid down several conditions for negotiations with the government. While indicating that the Taliban were willing to talk, Mr. Mehsud said the militants would not put down their arms.

Published Date: Sunday, December 30th, 2012 | 08:25 AM

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