QUETTA, Pakistan — A bomb hidden in a water tank ripped through a vegetable market in a mostly Shiite neighborhood in Quetta on Saturday, killing at least 81 people and wounding more than 150, officials said.
Police said an initial death toll of 65 rose overnight as many of those severely wounded died.
The blast, which police said targeted the country’s minority Shiite Muslim sect, left many victims buried under rubble, but authorities did not know how many.
It was the deadliest incident since bombings targeting Shiites in the same city killed 86 people in January, leading to days of protests that eventually toppled the local government.
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Shiites have been increasingly attacked by militants who view them as heretics and non-Muslims in this Sunni Muslim dominated country.
Many of the Shiites in Quetta, including those in the neighborhood attacked Saturday, are Hazaras, an ethnic group that migrated to Pakistan from Afghanistan more than a century ago.
Quetta police chief Zubair Mahmood said the bomb was hidden in a water tank and towed into the market by a tractor. He said the blast destroyed shops and caused a two-story building to collapse.
“We fear some victims may be found buried there,” he said.
Mahmood said police did not know who was behind the bombing, but a local television station reported that Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group that has targeted Shiites in the past, had called to claim responsibility.
Senior police officer Wazir Khan Nasir said the bomb was detonated by remote control.
Another officer, Samiullah Khan, said the bomb was detonated while dozens of women and children were buying produce for their evening meal.
Residents took victims to three different hospitals, with many being taken in private vehicles because there weren’t enough ambulances.
Television footage of the scene showed the streets littered with rubble from destroyed buildings, mixed with fruits and vegetables and shattered street carts.
Near one hospital where the dead and wounded were taken, a man stood weeping as people were being taken in on stretchers.
“Look at our misery! We are helpless,” he said.
Members of the minority Shiite sect took to the city’s streets in protest, blocking roads with burning tires and throwing stones at passing vehicles.
Many also started firing into the air in an attempt to keep people away from the area in case there was a secondary explosion. Sometimes insurgents stagger the explosions as a way to target people who rush to the scene to help, thus increasing the death toll.
Police cordoned off the area. Most of the Shiites blamed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.
“This evil force is operating with the patronage of certain elements in the province,” said Qayum Changezi, chairman of a local Hazara organization.
Pakistan’s intelligence agencies helped nurture Sunni militant groups such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in the 1980s and 1990s to counter a perceived threat from neighboring Iran, which is mostly Shiite. Pakistan banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in 2001, but the group continues to operate.
Last year was particularly deadly for Shiites in Pakistan. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 were killed in targeted attacks across the country. The human-rights group said over 125 were killed in Baluchistan province.
Rights groups have accused the government of not doing enough to protect Shiites.