A suicide bombing Friday targeting a Shiite Muslim procession in the southern city of Quetta killed 58 people and injured more than 100, police said. The explosion came two days after bomb attacks killed 35 people during a Shiite march in another Pakistani city.
The Shiite procession near Meezan Square, a busy shopping area in the heart of Quetta, was to express solidarity with the Palestinian movement, said Malik Iqbal, inspector-general of the Baluchistan provincial police.
After the explosion, onlookers fled as some of the marchers, who had brought rifles to protect the participants, fired into the air, eyewitnesses said.
The attack follows a trio of suicide bombings Wednesday in Lahore that targeted Shiites honoring the anniversary of the death of Imam Ali, one of the sect’s most revered figures. The Pakistani Taliban has claimed responsibility for those attacks.
Sunni Muslim militant groups in Pakistan have for years targeted Shiites here, who make up 10% to 30% of the population. Several of the militant groups have developed a strong alliance with the Pakistani Taliban. Those groups, which include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba, have operated freely, particularly Punjab province, despite being banned by the government.
One of the minorities that Sunni militants have targeted frequently is the Ahmadi sect, which is legally barred in Pakistan from calling itself Muslim. On Friday, a suicide bomber killed one person and injured three at the entrance of an Ahmadi mosque in the northwest city of Mardan.
The Ahmadi group, about 4 million-strong in Pakistan, reveres another prophet in addition to the prophet Muhammad, which is considered heresy by most Muslims. In May, militants wearing explosives vests and armed with assault rifles and hand grenades killed 97 people at two Ahmadi mosques in Lahore.
Police were criticized after the Lahore bombings this week for failing to provide adequate security for the Shiite marchers, who numbered as many as 15,000.
On Thursday, Interior Minister Rehman Malik urged Pakistan’s Shiite community to avoid holding large rallies or marches in vulnerable locations, such as streets and marketplaces.
Baluchistan police chief Iqbal said his force had received information that the march in Quetta might be targeted, and officers met with organizers of the march two days ago to urge them to restrict the procession within an area secured by police. Organizers ignored the warning, he said.
The attacks come as Pakistan’s government, police and military are grappling with the aftermath of this summer’s catastrophic floods, which killed more than 1,600 people and displaced more than 7 million. Militant activity had waned in the first few weeks of the disaster, but this week’s attacks suggest that extremist groups are trying to exploit the country’s vulnerability from the floods.
Special correspondent Nasir Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.