QUETTA - Pakistan has suspended buses carrying Shia pilgrims from travelling through its volatile Baluchistan province to neighboring Iran due to security concerns after a suicide attack killed 27 pilgrims this week, officials said on Friday.
A 700 km highway connecting the Pakistani city of Quetta with Iran and from there to Iraq, home to many Shia pilgrimage sites, has seen dozens of suicide and roadside bomb attacks claimed by radical groups.
"We have temporarily suspended the movement of buses on the highway until the security situation improves," a senior official of the provincial government told Reuters.
Sectarian attacks are on the rise in Pakistan, where minority Shias make up about 20 percent of the 180 million people. Human Rights Watch says more than 400 Shias were killed in 2013, including women and children.
On Tuesday, a suicide bomber drove his car into a bus killing 29 Shia pilgrims and prompting thousands to take to the streets to protest against the violence.
"No place is safe for us. There is no alternate road. We have to travel through this 'bloody highway' each time we go on a pilgrimage," said Mohammad Ismail, one protester.
Extremist Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the latest attack.
VICTIMS BURIED UNDER STRICT SECURITY
Meanwhile the bodies of 29 victims were laid to rest today, DawnNews reported.
Amidst strict security arrangements, the victims were buried in Bahisht-e-Zainab graveyard on Quetta's Alamdar Road and Bahisht-e-Zahra graveyard in Hazara Town.
A large number of women had also gathered to pay their respects to the deceased.
The funeral prayers for the victims had been offered in Quettas Punjabi Imambargah.
The burials come in hours after the Shia Hazara community agreed to end its protest sit-in after Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan assured them that strict action would be taken against elements that carried out the attack. The attack had been claimed by Lashkar-i-Jhangvi which also warned of more such attacks.
Hundreds of Hazara men, women and children had held a protest sit-in in the Quetta's Shuhada chowk for about 48 hours in extremely cold weather with sub-zero temperatures at night on Sunday.
Sit-ins and demonstrations had also been held in Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Rawalpindi.
Security forces launch operation in Mastung; 25 detained
Meanwhile, security forces detained at least 25 suspected individuals during a full scale operation in Mastung's Kanak and Derringer areas today.
The operation was launched Friday morning by security forces which included personnel from the Frontier Corps, police, the Anti-Terrorist Force (ATF) and Levies and recruits from Balochistan Constabulary.
The forces are also being assisted by helicopters and armoured personnel carriers.
Meanwhile, the entry and exit points of Kanak and Derringer were sealed shortly before the search operation went underway.
The arrested suspects were shifted to Quetta.
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