ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A powerful bomb ripped through a passenger train in Pakistan's restive southwestern province of Baluchistan, killing at least 17 people and wounding 46 others, police said. Five children were believed to be among the dead.
Police officials said the bomb went off when a train bound for the garrison city of Rawalpindi reached Sibi, a district situated about 100 miles from Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province.
A separatist group called the United Baluch Army claimed responsibility for the blast, which it said was in retaliation for attacks by Pakistani security forces this week on rebel hideouts in Baluchistan that reportedly killed 40 people. Pakistani authorities declared the group a terrorist organization in 2006.
Ghulam Abbas Tarar, the police chief in Sibi, said by phone that the blast occurred inside a passenger car that was carrying 75 people. Several bodies were charred beyond recognition and were being transported to Quetta so they could be identified through DNA testing, Tarar said.
He said the separatist group was active in the area and had conducted attacks there in the past. Various Baluch nationalist organizations have been waging a low-level insurgency against the Pakistani government for years and routinely attack trains, security forces and government installations in Baluchistan province.
The groups accuse Pakistani security forces of human-rights abuses such as illegal detentions, torture and executions of ethnic Baluch civilians, charges the government denies.
The Baluch insurgency is distinct from the northern Pakistani militant groups that are loosely organized under the banner of the Pakistani Taliban, whose goal is to establish Islamic law in the country.
Ishaq Baloch, an aide to the chief minister of Baluchistan province, said it was "cowardly" for the separatist group to target civilians. He said authorities had been developing a new security plan to safeguard trains from such attacks but that it had not been implemented yet.
"Baluchistan is such a huge province that it is not possible to provide security to all trains all over the province," he said.