ISLAMABAD: In a sign of growing sectarian conflict in Pakistan, as many as 25 Shias were killed when they were forced to disembark from a passenger bus and gunned down at point blank range by extremists as they were traveling from Rawalpindi to northern region of Gilgit-Baltistan on Thursday.
The incident occurred in Naran valley of Manshera district in Khyber-Paktunkwa province, around 180 kilometres north of Islamabad.
"About 10 to 12 people wearing army uniform stopped the bus and forced some people off the bus," Khalid Omarzai, the top administrative official told a news agency.
"After checking their papers, they opened fire and at least 20 people are reported to have been killed. This is initial information and the final toll may go up. They are all Shias," he said.
Shafiq Gul, a local police official, however, gave a different account saying that the victims were pulled from three separate vehicles by some15 masked gunmen after identifying them as Shias. "They stopped three vehicles, searched them and picked up people in three batches of five, six and nine and shot them dead. They were all Shias," he told media.
Also on Thursday, unknown gunmen riding on motorbike opened fire on a group of Hazara community of Shia sect in Quetta city of Baluchistan province, killing three of their members.
Attacks on Shias in recent years shows that sectarian violence remains as deadly as killings instigated by al-Qaida and the Taliban. Pakistan has the second largest Shia population after Iran: approximately 50 million. Extremist Sunni militant groups often target religious minorities, especially Shias, in Pakistan.
The Shia and other minority communities say those behind the violence - such as the banned Sunni militant organization Lashkar-e-Jhangvi - are rarely caught or punished.
Sunni extremists allied to or inspired by al-Qaida and the Taliban routinely attack government and security forces in different parts of Pakistan, in addition to religious minorities and other Muslim sects they consider to be infidels.
In February, unknown assailants killed at least 18 Shia bus passengers in a sectarian attack in the northern district of Kohistan on Karakoram Highway.
Last year, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi militants stopped a bus and killed 26 Shia pilgrims travelling on a bus in Baluchistan province. A predominantly Punjabi group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi was linked with the 2002 murder of US reporter Daniel Pearl.http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/worl ... ttarget=no