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QUETTA, Sept 20: Twenty-six pilgrims going to Iran were shot dead in cold blood in Mastung on Tuesday.

Three other people who were going in an ambulance to bring the injured to a hospital in Quetta were killed.

The pilgrims were on their way to the border town of Taftan in a bus when armed men intercepted them, entered the vehicle, ordered them to disembark, lined them up after checking their identity cards and opened fire on them, killing 26 people and injuring eight others. Four of the injured are in a critical condition.

Most of the dead and injured belonged to the Hazara tribe.

“Twenty-six people died on the spot as assailants opened fire from a close range,” Assistant Commissioner of Mastung Shah Nawaz said. It was a seatrain attack, he added.

The banned outfit, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, claimed responsibility for both the attacks.

Sources said the bus carrying about 50 passengers, most of them pilgrims, was intercepted near Gangi-Dori area on the Quetta-Taftan Road, some 50km from here, by armed men on motorcycles.

“They entered the bus, took passengers out and killed many of them,” said Khushhal Khan, the driver of the bus.

After that, the assailants asked him and the cleaner to leave the bus.

Reuters quoted the driver as saying: “Two vehicles intercepted the bus. Forced all the passengers off and opened fire. Many of them fled.”

He said: “They were eight to 10 men and they were carrying rocket-launchers and Kalashnikovs.”

Levies and Frontier Corps personnel rushed to the site of the incident and took the injured and the dead to Bolan Medical College Hospital in Quetta.

“Most of the bodies were lying outside the bus while some of the injured were inside,” said Dr Mohammad Ismail, who reached the place half an hour after the incident.

“I dispatched 26 bodies and three injured to the hospital,” he said.

He said most of the victims had received multiple injuries in the head and chest.

“The assailants used weapons of different calibres, including TT pistols, AK-47 rifle and 9mm pistols,” he said.

Levies sources said eight armed men, who were on four motorcycles, had carried out the attack. They said the injured were taken to the Combined Military Hospital in Quetta.

Later, armed men killed the other three people who were going in an ambulance to Mastung to bring the injured to Quetta.

All the three men in the ambulance died on the spot. The attackers escaped after the killing.

A spokesman of the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, who claimed responsibility for the attacks, identified himself as Ali Sher Haideri. He said: “Our organisation carried out both the attacks.”

Balochistan Governor Zulfiqar Magsi and Chief Minister Aslam Raisani condemned the attacks and directed the Inspector General of Police and other officials to arrest the culprits as soon as possible.

The Hazara Democratic Party and other organisations have given a call for a strike on Wednesday in protest against the killings. They also announced seven-day mourning.