SUKKUR, Pakistan – A suicide bombing at a Shiite demonstration in the western Pakistani city of Quetta left at least 55 people dead Friday, triggering fears of an outbreak of sectarian violence as the nation continues to struggle with ruinous floods.
The strike followed a suicide attack that killed at least two people in northwestern Pakistan at a mosque of the Ahmadi sect, another religious minority whose members are the frequent victims of Islamist extremists. On Wednesday, suicide bombers struck a Shiite march in the city of Lahore, killing at least 30 and sparking riots.
The Pakistani Taliban, an offshoot of the Afghan group, claimed responsibility for the Lahore bombing. The United States added the militant organization, which American officials say was behind the failed May 1 Times Square bomb attempt, to its terrorism blacklist this week.
Attacks by Islamist radicals slowed during the past month as Pakistan coped with its worst-ever natural disaster, which has left 1,600 people dead and displaced millions. Although it was unclear whether militants were offering a reprieve or were themselves weakened by the floodwaters, this week’s bombings seemed to mark an end to that lull.
The bombing in Quetta injured at least 100 people. It occurred in a busy commercial area as Shiite Muslims – a minority in a nation where most people are Sunnis – gathered for a procession to express solidarity with Palestinians. Similar marches were held elsewhere in Pakistan.
Television footage showed vehicles and motorbikes aflame in deserted streets. According to the news network Express 24/7, surviving protesters fired guns, contributing to the injuries.
Quetta is in the province of Baluchistan, one of Pakistan’s least populated and poorest regions. The province has also been hit by flooding, but the government has restricted the movement of international aid agencies in the area, where separatists have been waging a low-level insurgency for years.
Monsoon rains that sparked flooding in late July let up this week and floodwaters continued to recede, allowing more Pakistanis to return to the cities and villages they had evacuated weeks before.
But vast swaths of southern Pakistan, including areas surrounding the Sindh province city of Sukkur, remained underwater, and millions of people were still living in thousands of tent camps set up across the nation.