QUETTA, Feb 5: At least 13 people, including three army personnel, were killed and 18 others injured on Sunday when a bomb exploded in a Lahore-bound passenger bus near Kolpur, some 50 kilometres south-east of here.

“Twelve passengers died on the spot and their bodies were badly mutilated in the blast,” Inspector General of Police Chaudhry Yaqoob told reporters. Some of the bodies were dismembered and others were charred beyond recognition, he said.

“The blast was so powerful that it tore through the rear of the bus and scattered several bodies outside the vehicle,” said Mohammad Iqbal, who was travelling in the bus and received injuries.

Police personnel and people living close to the site of the blast immediately helped to pull out the injured from the ill-fated bus and took them to the Civil Hospital where an emergency was declared.

Mr Yaqoob said that the bomb had been planted in one of the back seats of the bus.

Provincial Home Secretary Hamayun Khan told Dawn that a timer had been fitted to the explosive device. He said investigating agencies were keeping all aspects of the incident in mind to reach a conclusion.

According to reports, the bus was owned by a private company and was carrying around 50 passengers. It left the main bus terminal at 5:00pm and passed Kolpur town after an hour-long journey. The blast killed 12 passengers on the spot and injured 19 others, including a woman.

“Our hospital received 19 injured persons, one of whom succumbed to his injuries,” said Dr Farhan Anjum. Eleven of those injured suffered multiple wounds.

Another seven persons were allowed to go home after receiving first-aid, he said.

As the news of the blast spread, hundreds of people assembled in the Civil Hospital and volunteered to donate blood to save the lives of those injured.

Most of the passengers who were killed were residents of Quetta and were traders going to Lahore in connection with their businesses, sources said.

Six out of the 13 victims were identified as Agha Mohammad, Hazar Khan, Hamid Nisar, Haider Shah, Mohammad Ramzan, and Tariq Mehmood. The other bodies could not be identified as they were badly mutilated in the blast, police said.

“It is too early to say who is behind this brutal act,” the inspector general said in response to a query about those responsible for the explosion. However, in view of the current situation of the province, he said, one can say that those who did it were the same ones who were carrying out bomb attacks and disturbing the law and order situation in the province.

The inspector general said a majority of the victims of the blast appeared to be local Baloch and Pukhtuns and warned that their deaths in Sunday’s blast could trigger a violent backlash.

However, Mr Yaqoob said that security agencies would take all possible steps to protect the people. In addition, he said, transporters would be asked to adopt stringent measures to ensure the safety of passengers travelling in buses and coaches.

Speaking earlier in response to the latest violence in Sui, Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao said that security forces were currently limiting their activity to “defensive action”, but warned that “this strategy can be changed for the protection of gas installations and the local population”.