ISLAMABAD (AP) – A suicide bomber targeted Shiite Muslims on two buses in northwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing 12 people and wounding 30 in the latest violence to rock the Afghan border region, police said.
The attack may have been motivated by tensions between Pakistan’s majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shiites. The area is also near tribal strongholds of Sunni extremist groups like Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Police official Akram Ullah said the victims were passing through a gas station in the town of Hangu when the lone attacker on foot set off the bomb.
Five people died on the scene, and seven others died at hospitals, he said.
Pakistan’s northwest has been plagued for years by Islamist extremist violence fueled by anger over the war in Afghanistan and Islamabad’s alliance with Washington. An army offensive that began in October against the Pakistani Taliban spurred attacks that killed more than 600 people. But with the exception of a few attacks on northwest police stations, violence appears to have subsided in recent weeks, an indication that the army operation in the South Waziristan tribal region may be having an impact.
Sectarian tensions are another matter.
Although most of Pakistan’s Sunnis and Shiites live in peace, their extremists have targeted each other’s leaders in violence that dates from well before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States that prompted many Islamist militias to turn their guns on Islamabad.
Several of Pakistan’s Sunni extremist groups also are allied with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, who view Shiites as infidels. The Sunni-Shiite schism over the true heir to Islam’s Prophet Muhammad dates to the seventh century.