QUETTA - At least 24 people were killed and 40 others injured in a powerful explosion targeting Shia pilgrims returning from Iran, in Mastung district of Balochistan on Tuesday.

One of the buses, coming from border town of Taftan, and two security vehicles were destroyed in the attack in Khusak area of Kanak, on the main Quetta-Taftan Highway in Mastung district, some 45 kilometres from provincial capital Quetta. The bus caught fire after the blast.

Mastung Assistant Commissioner Shafqat Anwar Shahwani confirmed to the media death of 22 people including women, children and security personnel. He said 40 others sustained injures in the blast and 11 of them were women.

Hospital sources said the death toll had surged to 24 as they expressed fears of further increase in it because a number of injured were in serious condition. Home Secretary Asad Gillani told the media “around 103 pilgrims were onboard the two buses and there were 51 pilgrims in bus that was hit”.

AC Shafqat said, “The buses were stopped from proceeding and two FC personnel (accompanying for security) got off and went near a suspected the car for conducting search. As they got closer to the car, a huge explosion took place killing both on the spot.”

Giving the increasing attacks on Shia pilgrims, security on Quetta-Taftan highway is already high and the buses carrying Shia pilgrims are escorted by FC and Balochistan Levies personnel. The Balochistan Levies, Frontier Corps and the private guard were giving the security to the attacked buses. Security personnel’s two vehicles were also badly damaged in the attack. Home secretary said around 80 to 100 kg explosives material was used in the blast.

Police, Levies and FC personnel reached the area to evacuate the injured and shift them to hospitals. Ambulances were sent from Quetta to bring the dead and the injured. Firefighters were also called from the capital to extinguish the fire. A Balochistan Levies Officer Sanaullah told the media that at least 12 dead bodies and 13 injured had been shifted to Quetta from Mastung.

“I saw at least 10 dead bodies and many injured lying in a pool of blood. The bus caught fire after the explosion,” said Arif, who sustained injuries in the attack. “We have declared state of emergency at the Combine Military Hospital (CMH), Provincial Sandeman Hospital and Bolan Medical Complex Teaching Hospital (BMC),” Quetta Police DIG Muhammed Jaffar said. According to the CMH sources, around 38 injured were brought there and two to the Bolan Medical Hospital.

Banned sectarian outfit Lashkar-i-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack. Shia organisations Majlis Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), Hazara Democratic Party (HDP) and Tahafuz-e-Azadari Council announced three-day mourning and called shutter down strike in Quetta on Wednesday. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar, Balochistan Governor Muhammad Khan Achakzai, Chief Minister Dr Abdul Malik Baloch, Awami National Party Leader Asfand Yar Wali, MQM leader Altaf Hussain and others condemned the attack.