Attacks in Pakistan kill 28, ruin shrine
PESHAWAR, Pakistan — Pakistan’s leaders faced a fresh crisis Saturday after militants in the resistive Baluchistan Province destroyed a national monument honoring the country’s founder, bombed a bus carrying female college students and the hospital they were taken to, then took over part of the hospital.
The attacks, carried out by separate militant groups, seemed likely to escalate decades of turmoil in the southwestern part of the country.
At least 22 soldiers and civilians died in the attacks, along with six militants, the Associated Press reported.
Baluchistan, bordering Afghanistan and home to vast reserves of minerals and other natural resources, has been the site of intense battles between Pakistan’s national government and separatists seeking an independent country.
The relatively remote area is also a key front in efforts to control the Pakistani Taliban, and has been the scene of ruthless sectarian violence targeting the country’s Shia minority.
Saturday’s violence began when separatists detonated bombs at the one-time home of Pakistan’s late founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The house became a national monument that contained treasured artifacts honoring the country’s separation from India a year before Jinnah’s death in 1948.
A police officer was killed trying to defend the museum, which was destroyed in the blast, authorities said. The Baluchistan Liberation Army claimed responsibility.
Mushahid Hussain Syded, a leading Pakistani senator, said the bombing was a ‘‘serious security lapse’’ and ‘‘ideological terrorism’’ that struck at the heart of the country’s national pride. He called for an investigation and for the museum to be quickly rebuilt.
A few hours after that attack, a bomb was detonated in the provincial capital of Quetta, on a bus carrying female students to Sardar Bahadur Khan Women’s University, the area’s only all-women’s college.
‘‘The bus was ready to take female students when the bomb went off and engulfed the whole bus,’’ said Fayaz Sumbal, deputy inspector for local police operations. At least 14 people were killed and more than a dozen wounded in the explosion.
When the injured were taken to nearby Dolan Medical College for treatment, another explosion tore through the emergency department as doctors struggled to treat the victims, officials said.
Armed militants then forced their way into the hospital, taking up positions on the rooftops and exchanging gunfire with police and military commandos, according to local media reports and the Associated Press.
The battle lasted for hours, ending around sunset after several of the attackers were killed or captured, according to Pakistan’s interior minister.
Abdul Mansoor Kakar, Quetta’s deputy commissioner, who had rushed to the hospital after learning of the bus bombing, was killed in the explosion at the hospital, officials said.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a hard-line Sunni militant group affliated with Al Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the bus bombing and hospital siege. The militant group said the attack was revenge for the recent killing of militants near Quetta.
Saturday’s bus and hospital attacks do not appear to be connected to the bombing of Jinnah’s home, underscoring the multiple threats to stability in that part of the country. Authorities were investigating reports that a Baluch Liberation Army flag had been hoisted at the residence.
Both Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and the country’s newly sworn in prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, condemned the day’s violence and vowed a swift response.
Zardari called the attack on the bus and hospital ‘‘a most cowardly and inhumane act.’’ Sharif, who views the continued violence as a serious threat to the country’s economic vitality, said ‘‘all federal institutions’’ have been directed to support the province against what he called the ‘‘enemies of Baluchistan and Pakistan.’’
‘‘We are besieged, as a nation we need to stand united & vow to do all it takes to combat this menace that has plagued Pakistan. Enough!’’ wrote Sharif’s politically active daughter, Maryam Newaz Sharif, on Twitter.
Pakistan’s military and intelligence services have been battling the separatist movement, with varying degrees of intensity, since at least the 1970s.
But human rights officials have also criticized the military and intelligence services for not doing enough to stop relentless attacks by Sunni extremist groups — including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi — against the country’s minority Hazara Shia population, including a sizeable community that settled in Quetta after fleeing Afghanistan.
In January, two bombings targeting Hazara Shias killed more than 100 people in Quetta. A month later, more than 80 people were killed when an explosion tore through a market in Quetta.