REPORTING FROM PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN -- Gunmen stopped a bus in northern Pakistan and then shot and killed 18 passengers, local officials said Tuesday, 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.
The bus was heading from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to the rugged Gilgit area, situated on the foothills of the Karakoram Range. Eight or nine gunmen dressed in army uniforms stopped the bus and began shooting passengers one by one, Khan said. Seven other passengers were injured in the attack.
Both Khan and local administration officials said they suspected that the incident was 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.
-- Zulfiqar Ali. Ali is a special correspondent based in Peshawar.