QUETTA, Pakistan: A suicide bomber struck a Shiite shrine packed with worshippers in a remote village in southwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing 16 people and wounding 30 in an apparent sectarian attack, a provincial government spokesman and the police said.
The attacker detonated his explosives vest when he was stopped for a routine search by a police officer guarding the shrine in the village of Jhal Magsi, about 400 kilometers (240 miles) east of Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the provincial government, said the death toll could rise as some of the wounded were in critical condition.
Mohammad Iqbal, a district police chief, said five children, a woman and one police officer were among those killed in the bombing.
Hundreds of devotees were present at the shrine for a monthly gathering when the bomber hit. Local TV footage showed people crying for help in the immediate aftermath of the attack.
Just hours earlier, Pakistani army spokesman Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor said the military had received credible reports of upcoming terror attacks. Ghafoor told a news conference in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that the government has been alerted about possible attacks.
Though no one claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing, Sunni extremists have carried out many such attacks in the past, targeting minority Shiite Muslims in Baluchistan and elsewhere in the country. Sunni extremists perceive Shiites as apostates who should be killed.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi condemned the attack.
In a statement, he said that “terrorists have no religion” and that his government will act against militants with full might.
In June, at least 75 Shiite Muslims were killed in twin bombings at a market in Parachinar in the country’s northwest. At the time, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a sectarian Sunni extremist group, claimed the bombings in Parachinar, which is a majority Shiite town.
In February, a Daesh suicide bomber struck inside a famed Sufi shrine in southern Sindh province, killing 88 worshippers as they performed a devotional dance known as “dhamal.”
Baluchistan, which shares a border with Sindh province, has also been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists and separatists demanding more autonomy and a greater share in the region’s natural resources such as gas and oil. However, militants have also carried out scores of attacks in the province.