REPORTING FROM PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- Gunmen stopped a convoy of buses in northern Pakistan on Tuesday, and then shot and killed 16 passengers, local officials said, in what appeared to be a sectarian strike on the country's minority Shiite community.
The attack occurred in a predominantly Sunni area in the remote region of Kohistan, about 110 miles north of Islamabad. All of the passengers killed were Shiite Muslims, said Abdul Sattar Khan, a Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa provincial lawmaker from the Kohistan region.
Earlier reports put the death toll at 18, but officials later revised the number to 16. Seven passengers were injured in the attack, they said.
The bus was heading from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to Gilgit, a rugged area situated on the foothills of the Karakoram Range. Ten gunmen dressed in army uniforms stopped the four-bus convoy and checked the identity cards of passengers, said Azhar Khan, a Kohistan administration official. Shiite passengers were singled out and shot to death one by one, Azhar Khan said.
Local officials said the incident appeared to be a sectarian attack.
Sunni extremist organizations have regularly carried out attacks on Shiite Muslims, who they regard as heretics. One of the deadliest attacks in recent years occurred in September 2010, when a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite Muslim rally in the southern city of Quetta, killing 57 people. About 15% of Pakistan’s population is Shiite Muslim, while the majority is Sunni Muslim.
Local sources, speaking in the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media, said sectarian clashes between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Gilgit area broke out a month ago, after Sunnis accused local Shiites of instigating violence against their community.
The Associated Press quoted a spokesman for a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, a Sunni Muslim militant group, as claiming responsibility for the slayings.
-- Zulfiqar Ali. Ali is a special correspondent based in Peshawar.
Photo: People bound for Gilgit, Pakistan, wait for a bus after transporters suspended due to an attack on a convoy in which 16 were killed. Credit: B.K. Bangash / Associated Press