At least 23 Shia pilgrims returning from Iran were killed when militants attacked their buses in Pakistan’s troubled Balochistan province, officials said.
The attack took place on Sunday when 10 buses carrying the Shia pilgrims stopped at a hotel in Taftan near the Iranian border.
Four of the attackers were killed by Levies forces after heavy exchange of fire, Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Bugti, told reporters.
“As soon as the pilgrims came out of the buses to go to the hotel first a group of militants first opened indiscriminate fire on them and also threw hand grenades before rushing into the hotel and taking refuge there,” Bugti said.
He said 23 pilgrims were killed as a result of the firing and the attackers also blew up the buses.
A banned outfit Jaish-ul-Islam claimed responsibility for the attack, the Express Tribune reported.
A purported spokesman for the group, Azam Tariq, called Quetta-based journalists from an undisclosed location to claim credit for the deadly attack.
The home secretary of the province, Akbar Durrani confirmed to PTI that security forces were able to overpower the attackers after a few hours of heavy exchange of gunfire as the masked militants had come heavily armed and prepared for a siege.
“The bodies of the pilgrims are being shifted to hospitals and the injured are also getting treatment,” Durrani said.
“There were explosions after the buses were parked outside the hotels where the pilgrims were going to stay overnight before they commenced their journey back the following day,” Durrani said.
Two devastating bombings in Quetta killed nearly 200 Shias last year and were claimed by banned Sunni extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) which has links to al-Qaeda.
While in January, a blast on a bus carrying pilgrims from Iran killed some 22 people in Mastung area of the province.
Leading Shia organisations have announced they would hold countrywide protests and sit-ins against the attack.