Authorities in Pakistan say a powerful bomb ripped through a crowded Shi'ite Muslim mosque Friday, killing at least 58 worshipers and wounding many others.
Pakistani police say the bomb went off in a central mosque for the minority Shi'ite community in Shikarpur, around 470 kilometers north of Karachi, when hundreds of worshipers were busy offering Friday prayers..
Rescue workers say a portion of the building collapsed because of the intense explosion, trapping many of the victims under the rubble.
This was the second attack against a Shi'ite place of worship in Pakistan this month. The earlier attack in the garrison city of Rawalpindi near the capital left at least six people dead.
Some in Pakistan have long suspected that Saudi Arabia and Iran are behind the escalating sectarian conflict in the country that has killed thousands of people in recent years.
Former Pakistan minister Moinuddin Haider, speaking to VOA, said others are using Pakistan as battleground for their rivalry.are using Pakistan as battleground for their rivalry.
“Everybody knows there are countries in the region who are supporting one faction or the other and who are fighting a proxy war in Pakistan," said Haider. "I think this is now very clear and Pakistan is trying to see that this funding is stopped.”
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he is appalled by "such vicious targeting of people on account of their religious affiliation." He called on Pakistan's government to redouble its efforts to protect religious and ethnic minorities.
A splinter faction of the outlawed Pakistani Taliban called Jundullah has claimed responsibility for Friday’s deadly assault. The Sunni militant group reportedly has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and Iranian officials have also blamed the Sunni outfit for attacks inside Iran.
The rise in sectarian violence comes amid an intensified nationwide crackdown on Islamist groups suspected of having links to the anti-state Pakistani Taliban.
The campaign is part of a so-called National Action Plan the government has initiated to tackle growing Islamic militancy since a group of Taliban suicide bombers attacked a school in the city of Peshawar and massacred 150 people, 134 of them children.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was chairing a special meeting of top government officials in the provincial capital, Karachi, to review implementation of the plan when Friday’s mosque bombing took place.