QUETTA, June 28: At least 13 people, two women and a policeman among them, were killed and over 20 others injured on Thursday in a bomb attack on a bus mainly carrying Shia pilgrims returning from Iran. Most of the pilgrims belonged to the Hazara community.

Quetta police chief Mir Zubair Mehmood said the constable killed in the attack at Hazarganji was on a police vehicle escorting the bus. He said four policemen had been injured.

“An explosives-laden car was used in the attack,” Deputy Inspector General (investigation) Hamid Shakeel told Dawn. He said it was not clear how the bomb had been detonated.

However, some sources said human limbs found with the car’s wreckage indicated it could have been a suicide attack.

Police said the 44-seat bus had reached the outskirts of the provincial capital with police escort when it was hit by the powerful explosion near the fruit market in Hazarganji.

The bus caught fire and skidded for about 50 feet while some passengers fell out of it.

Only a charred wreckage of the bus was left after the explosion, Naseer Ahmed Kakar, a witness, said.

The victims trapped in the wreckage were extricated after heavy machinery was pressed in to prise open the heaps of twisted metal.

The bodies and the injured were brought to the Bolan Medical College Hospital, Civil Hospital and Combined Military Hospital.

“Eight people, including a woman and a police constable, were killed on the spot and five died in hospitals,” sources said, adding that four critically injured people had been admitted to the CMH.

Officials of the bomb disposal squad said about 40kg of explosives had been used in the explosion.

The explosion resounded across the city, causing panic among a jittery populace.

The Frontier Corps and police cordoned off the area before setting about the rescue operation.

Two police vehicles escorting the bus were also badly damaged.

After the tragedy, the authorities stopped other Quetta-bound buses carrying pilgrims from Iran, allowing them to move on only after security clearance.

The victims included constable Fateh Muhammad, Ali Bostan, Ali Hassan, Ghulam Sarwar, Ali Marri, Ali Zaman, Ghulam Raza and Mrs Tasawar Mirza. Five bodies could not be identified till late in the night. A spokesman for the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Abu Bakar Siddiq, called reporters late in the night to claim responsibility for the attack.

Although vehicles of law enforcement agencies patrol the Hazarganji bypass round the clock, the arrangement failed to prevent the attack.

Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Aslam Raisani and Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi condemned the attack.