Volunteers search for victims in a destroyed pilgrims bus at the site of a car bomb attack in Mastung, some 30 kilometres south of Quetta, Dec 30, 2012. — Photo by AFP

QUETTA, Dec 30: A car bomb hit a convoy of three Iran-bound buses in Mastung district on Sunday, setting one of the buses on fire and killing at least 20 Shia pilgrims and injuring 25 others.

The pilgrims belonged to different parts of Punjab. The other two buses were partially damaged.

According to official sources, the bomb hit the convoy on the RCD Highway in the Dringer area, some 60km from here.

A hitherto unknown organisation, Jaish-ul-Islam, has claimed responsibility for the attack in phone calls made to reporters by its spokesman Ghazi Haq Nawaz from an unspecified place.

Witnesses and government officials claimed it was a suicide attack because the driver of the car had rammed his vehicle into one bus in the convoy.

But some other officials said the explosion had been triggered by a remote-controlled device. The bomb disposal squad held the same view.

Balochistan Home Secretary Capt (retd) Akbar Hussain Durrani said criminals had planted explosives in a small car and parked it on the highway in Dringer area.

“They detonated the explosives with a remote control when the convoy reached there,” he said.

He said the bus which bore the impact of the blast carried 43 pilgrims and 20 of them were burned to death.

“Their bodies have been charred beyond recognition.”

He said 20 bodies and 25 injured had been taken to hospitals.

He also said a contingent of Levies escorting the three buses had not been affected.According to the bomb disposal squad, 80kg to 100kg of explosives were used in the explosion.

“The three buses were overtaking the car when we suddenly heard a huge blast and the bus next to ours caught fire,” Hussain Ali, a pilgrim said. He said people in the other two buses had tried to rescue the pilgrims in the burning bus they were deterred by heat generated by the fire.

Officials said some of the injured were in critical condition and they were referred to Combined Military Hospital in Quetta.

The bodies were taken to Bolan Medical Complex in Quetta and later to Nichari Imambargah after legal formalities. Subsequently, the bodies were sent to Punjab.

Source in the BMC said 18 bodies and 23 injured had been brought to the hospital.

The injured were identified as Shafiq Abbas, Ghulam Abbas, Sydo, Wasee Haider, Syed Khizar Hayat, Farhat Manzoor, Muhammad Aslam, Tahir Ali, Sher Hyat, Muhammad Iqbal, Syed Jaffar, Syed Safir Hussian, Sarfaraz Ali, Hurmat Iqbal, Sajid Ali, Muhammad Israr, Muhammad Latif, Pervin Akhtar, Shamim Batool, Kalsoom, Tahira Bibi, Shehzad, Yasir, Abbas Shah and Muhammad Nawaz.

The dead and the injured are said to be from Gujranwala, Gujrat, Sargodha, Lala Musa, Chiniot, Jhang, Multan and Lahore.

Earlier in June, a suicide bomber had attacked a bus in the Hazarganji area of Quetta when it was returning from the border town of Taftan. At least 13 people, including Shia pilgrims and policemen, were killed and 20 others injured.

Besides, several people belonging to the local Hazara Shia community were killed or injured in terrorist attacks in the city.