QUETTA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bombing at a Shi‘ite Muslim mosque killed at least 10 people in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan on Thursday, officials said, raising fears of more sectarian attacks during the upcoming Shi‘ite holiday of Ashura.
Fears of violence have been heightened this year after Taliban splinter groups pledged allegiance to the Syria- and Iraq-based Islamic State, a Sunni militant group that has repeatedly targeted Shi‘ites. Analysts say Pakistani groups hoping for patronage want to impress Islamic State.
Six children were among the dead and more than 20 people were wounded in Thursday’s attack in the town of Bhaag, about 200 km (124 miles) east of the provincial capital of Quetta, provincial Home Minister Mir Sarfaraz Ahmed Bugti told Reuters.
“This was a suicide attack and the head of the bomber has been found,” he said. No claim of responsibility was made following the attack.
Baluchistan in eastern Pakistan has been wracked by separatist violence and rising sectarianism for almost a decade.
Security has been beefed up across Pakistan ahead of the two days of Ashura. Shi‘ites will hold public gatherings and marches in most major Pakistani cities on Friday and Saturday to commemorate the death of Hussain, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad.
Mobile phone services will be suspended in major cities during both days in a bid to foil remote-controlled bombings. Police have also set up extra checkpoints and imposed restrictions on movement in some areas.
Shi‘ite Muslims make up about 20 percent of the Pakistani population. The rest are mostly Sunni Muslims.
In a separate development, the Pakistani military said in a statement on Thursday that it carried out its first night-time drone strike, killing “several” militants.
“Our own drone Burraq fired missiles and hit sanctuaries of terrorists in South Waziristan near the Afghan border on Thursday,” said a security official.
Pakistan launched the Burraq drone, an indigenously developed armed unmanned aerial vehicle, in March. The first strike by a Burraq drone was reported in early September.
Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Haji Mujtaba in Bannu; Writing by Asad Hashim; Editing by Katharine Houreld/Mark Heinrich