Most of the victims belong to the Shia Hazara minority, which has been similarly targeted in the past.

Pakistani police officials cordon off the site after a bomb blast at a fruit market in Quetta on April 12, 2019.
Pakistani police officials cordon off the site after a bomb blast at a fruit market in Quetta on April 12, 2019. (AFP)

A bomber targeted an open-air market in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday, killing at least 20 people and wounding nearly 50 others, police and hospital officials said. Nearly half the victims are Shia. 

"It seems people from the Hazara community were the target," senior police chief Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Abdur Razzaq Cheema said, adding that some of the victims were in critical condition. The Hazara minority follows the Shia sect of Islam and has been repeatedly targeted by terror attacks in the decades following the rise in militancy in Pakistan.

Cheema said the bomb, an improvised explosive device, was concealed inside a sack of potatoes.

An investigation was under way, the DIG said, adding the attack happened when shopkeepers were stacking produce.

Earlier reports indicated it might have been a suicide bombing.

A local police officer who was posted at the fruit market and survived the bomb said the area had been packed at the time of the blast early in the morning.

During the early hours, trucks arrive with vegetables brought in from outside the city, to be shifted by traders into smaller vehicles and delivered throughout Quetta.

No claim of responsibility

There was no clear claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place in the Hazarganji neighbourhood.

Sunni militant groups have claimed similar bombings in the past against Shias, whom they view as apostates deserving of death.

"Emergency has been declared at hospitals and it seems people from the Hazara community were the target," Cheema said.

TV footage showed several damaged shops and at least one vehicle of paramilitary security forces.

Jam Kamal Khan, the chief minister of Balochistan province, condemned the bombing, saying "the enemy of humanity is behind this act of terrorism."

He said he ordered authorities to provide the best possible treatment to those wounded.

Shortly after the bombing near a Shia residential area, dozens of Shia youths rallied in Quetta, demanding more security from the authorities and the arrest of those behind the attacks.

They also denounced the violence by extremists who have killed hundreds in similar attacks over the past years in Baluchistan province, where Quetta is the capital.

Quetta is the capital of Balochistan province, which borders Afghanistan and Iran, and is Pakistan's largest and least populated province, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist militancy.

Hazara make up roughly 500,000 of Quetta's population of 2.3 million. 

They are so frequently targeted that provincial police chief Mohsin Butt said the victims in Friday's blast were given police protection every time they visited the fruit market.

"The same happened today, there were police and FC (Frontier Constabulary) guarding them when the blast occurred," Butt said.

Police are investigating what kind of blast it was, he added.

Balochistan is also the focus of projects in the $57 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, a transport and energy link planned to run from western China to Pakistan’s southern deepwater port of Gwadar.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies