PESHAWAR // A bomb exploded in a crowded bazaar in a mainly Shiite area of Pakistan’s north-west tribal region yesterday, killing 23 people and wounding more than 30.
The attack was claimed by the sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has carried out some of the worst attacks on Pakistan’s Shiite minority.
The death toll was expected to rise after the explosion at the Eidgah used-clothes market in Parachinar city, the capital of Kurram tribal district on the border with Afghanistan.
“The death toll has reached 23 as many of the critically wounded succumbed to injuries as they were being shifted to helicopters to fly them to Peshawar,” said Amjad Ali Khan, the political administrator of Kurram.
Television footage showed hundreds of male marketgoers fleeing the area, which was strewn with clothing and debris, as police cordoned off the location and ambulances rushed to the site.
Kurram is one of Pakistan’s seven semi-autonomous tribal districts which are governed according to local laws and customs.
The region is known for sectarian clashes between Sunnis and Shiites, who make up roughly 20 per cent of Pakistan’s 200 million people.
The tribal districts are the front line of Pakistan’s battle against an insurgency that began in 2004 after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan forced Taliban and Al Qaeda militants to flee across the border.
The insurgency has claimed the lives of around 25,000 civilians and security forces’ personnel, according to the South Asia Terror Portal.
Overall levels of violence have decreased this year following a nationwide military-led offensive against militants, including a crackdown on groups who target Shiites and preachers who incite hatred.
In July the leader of an anti-Shiite group behind some of Pakistan’s worst sectarian atrocities was killed in a shoot-out with police, along with 13 other extremists.
The killing of Malik Ishaq, the head of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi who had openly boasted of murdering more than 100 people, was seen by analysts as an extrajudicial killing by the state.
Haroon Bhatti, a key deputy to Ishaq, was killed in a similar shoot-out late last month.
But attacks against the minority persist.
In October a suicide bomber blew himself up at a Shiite religious procession in the southern city of Jacobabad, killing 24.
In May gunmen who pledged allegiance to ISIL opened fire on a bus in Karachi carrying Ismaili Shiites, killing 44.
The deadliest-ever attack against Pakistani Shiites came in January 2013 when a suicide bomber blew himself at a snooker hall in the southwestern city of Quetta.
As rescue workers rushed to the scene, a lorry packed with explosives parked nearby also detonated, with the overall toll close to 100 dead.
* Agence France-Presse