Quetta :From Wall Street Journal —At least 23 people were killed Saturday, including 14 female university students, in twin bomb and gun attacks in the western Pakistani city of Quetta, officials said.
In an afternoon of mayhem, militants bombed a bus carrying students from a university. The dead and injured were taken to a nearby hospital, which was then stormed by gunmen and suicide bombers, who took hostages, leading to a four-hour siege and firefight with security forces, before the authorities took control.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a violent Sunni sectarian organization normally associated with attacks on the minority Shiite sect of Islam, claimed responsibility. The group, influenced by al Qaeda, works closely with the Pakistani Taliban.
A rescue worker and security official collect evidence from a burned bus at the site of a bomb blast in the western Pakistani city of Quetta on Saturday.
Quetta is the violence-plagued provincial capital of Baluchistan. The bus was taking the students home after class. Some locals said that students from the local Hazara community, who are Shiite, often rode that bus. The bus was just leaving the university when an improvised explosive device detonated onboard, said provincial police chief Mushtaq Sukhera.
Just a smoldering metal skeleton was left of the bus, television pictures from the scene showed. A few possessions of the students were found there, including shoes, charred writing pads carrying the student's notes from classes, identity cards and a handbag.
The dead and injured were taken to a hospital that was almost next to the university. There, as relatives and officials gathered, a suicide bomber exploded his vest inside the building, close to paramilitary Frontier Corps guards, said Mr. Sukhera. Then, gunfire started.
"I think it was their trap, that the girls would be shifted to the nearest hospital, and they would attack there," said Mr. Sukhera.
There is a large community of ethnic Hazara in Quetta. They have been the victims of a sustained campaign of violence by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi that claimed hundreds of lives. The Hazara are also a minority in neighboring Afghanistan.
Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said that 35 people were taken hostage in one room at the hospital.
"We were preparing for a commando operation to free them, but, by God's grace, that was not necessary," said Mr. Khan.
Officials said that 14 were killed in the bus bombing and 19 injured. At the hospital, a further four nurses, a senior city official and four paramilitary security personnel were killed. Four police officers were injured, one critically. In addition, four assailants were killed at the hospital.
The provincial police chief, Mr. Sukhera, denied that the attack was sectarian. However, that seemed to be contradicted by the claim of responsibility, evidence from eyewitnesses and the views of other officials. Those at the hospital at the time of the assault told local media that the attackers had said that the Sunnis could leave but the Shiites had to remain.
Hasil Bizenjo, a senator and a senior member of the National Party, which is part of the new ruling provincial coalition government in Baluchistan, said the bus hit in the attack had changed its route and had previously taken students to the Hazara enclave in the city.
"Lashkar-e-Jhangvi doesn't claim responsibility for any attack here unless it is an attack on Shiites," said Mr. Bizenjo. The other attacks are usually claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, he said.
Mr. Bizenjo said that such attacks would continue unless there was better intelligence, and for that, work by the military's spy agencies, Inter-Services Intelligence and Military Intelligence, was needed.
"But there still seems to be some confusion, some hurdles" in those intelligence agencies targeting the religious extremists, he said.
Pakistan's military and its intelligence agencies have long been criticized for their relationship with some jihadist groups, including sectarian groups. The military rejects the charges.