KARACHI - Pistol-wielding gunmen in Karachi Wednesday stormed a bus carrying members of the Ismaili minority, killing at least 45 in the first attack in the country officially claimed by the Islamic State group.

“According to the initial information which we have received from hospitals, 45 people have been killed and 13 wounded,” Ghulam Haider Jamali, Sindh police chief told reporters at the site in Malir district. “Six terrorists came on three motorcycles; they entered the bus and began firing indiscriminately. They used 9mm pistols and all those killed and injured were hit by the 9mm pistols,” he said.

The attack occurred in the city suburbs where Ismaili community had recently constructed residential apartments, Al-Azhar Garden. The bus would pick the residents from the apartments and take them to the central city areas including Water Pump, Aaisha Manzil and Karimabad, and then bring them back. Paramilitary Rangers and police conducted a series of targeted raids in Sohrab Goth and Safoora Goth neighbourhoods after the attack and arrested 70 suspects.

Prince Karim Aga Khan, the spiritual leader of the world Ismaili community, confirmed the toll in a statement sent by his office in France. “This attack represents a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community,” the philanthropist and business magnate said.

Eyewitness said gunmen ridding motorbikes intercepted the bus, bearing registration number JB-0333, near Safora Chowrangi in Sachal Police remits and shot at all the passengers, including women and children. The killings were also condemned by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other national and international leaders, including Indian Prime Minister Narendra Moodi.

A resident told The Nation that all the victims of the ill-fated bus were residents of Al-Azhar Garden. He said that around 60 people were on board the bus when it left the apartments at around 9:30 while incident occurred after some 15 minutes. The victims included two underage children and 16 women while the rest of them were men.

The IS claims of this heinous massacre, posted on Twitter, are set to raise fears over the Middle East-based militants’ growing influence after they announced in January the creation of a branch in what they called “Khorasan province”, encompassing Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of surrounding countries.

“Thanks be to Allah, 45 apostates were killed and around 30 were wounded in an attack carried out by Islamic State soldiers on a bus transporting Shia Ismaili infidels in Karachi,” the extremist group said in an Arabic statement, citing a higher number of injured than Pakistani officials.

Police also found leaflets claiming IS responsibility at the scene of the attack in the city’s eastern Malir district, while the homegrown Jundullah militant faction, which some analysts suspect of having ties to IS, made a separate claim of responsibility to AFP. The country has experienced a rising tide of sectarian violence in recent years, particularly against Shias, who make up around 20 percent of the country’s predominantly Muslim population of 200 million.

At the city’s Memon Hospital Institute, where most of the wounded were taken, crying relatives formed a human chain outside the main building to keep onlookers away. A sobbing middle-aged man said: “I have come to collect the body of my young son. He was a student preparing for his first year exams at college.”

Witnesses said that the gunmen completed their operation swiftly while chanting religious slogans and left leaflets at the crime scene. They shot dead the driver before getting inside the bus while the conductor, who was wounded slightly, later drove the blood-drenched and bullet-riddled bus with victims onboard to nearby Memon Hospital.

Police claimed that the assailants used 9-MM pistols in the shooting, though five empty shells of Kalashnikov were also found inside the bus. Investigators also found an under-construction bungalow located near the crime scene where they believe the terrorists stayed before carrying out the attack.

Preliminary police investigation revealed that three out of six to eight terrorists were wearing police uniform, rest of them were putting on Shalwar Qamiz, the traditional Pakistani dress. One of them wearing trouser-shirt was clean-shaven, who asked the commuters to bow down their heads and then he and his companions shot most of the victims in their head.

A female survivor who asked to remain anonymous described the attackers as being clean-shaven and dressed in Western attire, according to a male nurse who spoke to her. The passengers were instructed to bow their heads as one attacker shouted ‘Kill them all’, the nurse quoted the survivor as saying. “One attacker mentioned there were two kids on board and the other told them to let them live,” she told the nurse.

There have been concerns recently about the IS group tapping support in Pakistan, a country awash with dozens of militant groups. Leaflets calling for support of IS jihadists have been seen over recent months in parts of northwest Pakistan and pro-IS slogans have appeared on walls in several cities, but Wednesday’s claims are the first to be made by the group on an official level.

A spokesman for the Jundullah militant faction, which has claimed several major attacks in the past including one on a church in Peshawar that killed 81 Christians in 2013, also said his group was responsible for storming the bus. Speaking over the phone from an undisclosed location, Ahmed Marwat said: “Shias and Ahmadis are unbelievers, they are apostates and deserved death.”

The attack came in an area where there are many sensitive installations. There are two Rangers facilities there, a headquarter at Shaikh Zayed, University of Karachi, and another wing headquarter located at Superhighway, while Malir Cantonment is also hardly one kilometers from the crime scene. Interestingly, President Mamnoon Hussain was also scheduled to arrive at NED University at 11am which is also located near the crime scene.

IG Sindh Ghulam Haider Jamali, DG Ranger Major General Bilal Akber along with other high ups visited the scene. The IG constituted a high level committee to probe the incident under Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebo and comprising DIGs of Counter Terrorism Department, CIA, and East and West districts; and SSP East. SP Malir Rao Anwar, who was suspended after a controversial press conference against MQM a couple of weeks ago, was also reinstated and made part of the committee.

Little is known about Jundullah, its strength, or its organisational structure, but it is believed to be based out of the country’s tribal areas and parts of Karachi. According to security analyst Amir Rana, the shadowy group has pledged its allegiance to IS in the past. “Jundullah is the group who at the very initial state had shown its allegiance to Daesh, or Islamic State, and it has a lot of inspiration from the group. “And this was the same group who had claimed that they were going to be setting up an IS-style caliphate in the country.”