QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) — Thousands of Shiite Muslims took to the streets in southwest Pakistan on Monday in a second day of protests following a bombing that killed 84 people. Relatives of the victims refused to bury their loved ones until the army takes action against the militants targeting the minority sect.
Meanwhile, militants wearing suicide vests and disguised as policemen attacked the office of a senior political official in northwest Pakistan, killing six people, police said.
Pakistan has been besieged by militant attacks in recent years, many of them carried out by the Pakistani Taliban, who have been waging a bloody insurgency against the government. The country's Shiites have also increasingly become a target of radical Sunni militant groups allied with the Taliban who don't believe the Shiites are real Muslims.
Many of these sectarian attacks have occurred in southwest Baluchistan province, which has the largest concentration of Shiites in Pakistan. Many are Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated from Afghanistan over a century ago.
The bomb that ripped through a produce market Saturday in Baluchistan's provincial capital of Quetta was the second mass-casualty attack targeting Shiites in the city in a little over a month. A double bombing of a billiards hall in January killed 86 people.
The death toll from the most recent blast, which was caused by a bomb hidden in a water tank, rose to 84 on Monday after three people died of their wounds, said senior police officer Fayaz Saumbal.
Outrage over the attacks has grown in Pakistan, and protests were held in over a half dozen cities Monday in addition to Quetta. But it's unclear whether the demonstrations will spark action that will make the Shiites any safer.
Rights groups have criticized the government for not doing enough to crack down on the attacks. They explain this apathy by pointing to past connections between the country's military and anti-Shiite militants, and also allege the sectarian groups are seen as less of a threat than the Taliban because they are not targeting the state.
Despite this criticism, the Shiites in Quetta see the Pakistani army as their only potential savior and are demanding the generals be given control of the city. They blame the provincial government and police for failing to protect them and want the army to take targeted action against sectarian militant groups like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for both the recent bombings in the city.
"We will not bury our martyrs until our demands are fulfilled," a top Shiite leader in the country, Amin Shaheedi, told reporters Monday at the site of the protest in Quetta.
Thousands of Shiites poured into streets near where the attack occurred, while others remained inside a mosque beside the bodies of their relatives, which were covered with white sheets. One young girl wrote on her face, "Don't kill me. I am Shia."
After the bombing in January that killed 86 people, Shiites camped out in the street for four days alongside the coffins of their loved ones. Eventually the country's prime minister ordered a shake-up in the regional administration, putting the local governor in charge of the whole province. But the governor has expressed frustration, saying the recent bombing was the result of a failure of the provincial security and intelligence services.
The most significant protests outside Quetta on Monday occurred in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, located on the country's southern coast. Hundreds of protesting Shiites paralyzed key areas of the city by blocking major roads, including the one that leads to the airport.
The target of Monday's attack in the northwestern city of Peshawar was the office of the top political official for the Khyber tribal area, a major militant sanctuary in the country. The militants were disguised in the same type of uniform worn by the tribal policemen who protect the compound.
Four militants opened fire on the policemen protecting the compound and managed to get inside, said senior tribal policeman Sajad Hussain. Once inside, three of the attackers detonated their suicide vests, said Hussain. It's unclear what happened to the fourth attacker.
Six people were killed in the attack, including four tribal policemen and two civilians, said senior police officer Shafqat Malik. Thirteen people were wounded, including some who were inside an office that collapsed from the force of the explosions.
An eyewitness, Shahid Shinwari, said the militants launched the attack when a van carrying prisoners arrived at the office compound. The militants tried to free the prisoners from the van, he said.
The compound is open to members of the public on Mondays, and it was filled with dozens of people who became trapped inside by the attack. Soldiers and police responded to the attack, and the people trapped inside were eventually freed.
Local TV footage showed them walking out of the compound with their hands raised as they were led out of the compound to an area for screening. White smoke from the explosions billowed out of the compound.
Khan reported from Peshawar, Pakistan. Associated Press writer Adil Jawad in Karachi, Pakistan, and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.