PARACHINAR, Pakistan (AP) — A car bomb ripped through a crowded market in a Pakistani tribal region bordering Afghanistan on Monday, killing 12 Shiite Muslims in the latest instance of sectarian violence to rock this country, officials said.
Pakistan is dominated by Sunni Muslims, but is also home to a sizeable minority of Shiites, a separate sect of Islam. While most Shiites and Sunnis coexist peacefully, Sunni extremists have often targeted Shiites whom they do not consider to be true Muslims.
Government official Sahibzada Anis gave the death toll and said 45 other people were wounded in the blast in the town of Parachinar in the Kurram region — the only region along the Afghan border that is majority Shiite. It has seen bloody outbreaks of sectarian violence in recent years. Another government official, Naseer Khan, said all of the dead were Shiite Muslims.
The emergence over the last 10 years in Pakistan of extremist groups such as al-Qaida and the Pakistani Taliban has added to the frequency and viciousness of attacks against Shiites.
In February, a suicide attacker on a motorcycle blew himself up in Parachinar, killing 23 Shiite Muslims and wounding 50 people.
Many of the recent sectarian killings in Pakistan have been blamed on the militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban.
A court released the founder of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi on bail Monday, about a week and a half after he was arrested because of a speech he made that authorities said incited sectarian hatred, said police officer Ejaz Shafi. Bail was set at 500,000 rupees, about $5,280, Shafi said.
Police also arrested the founder, Malik Ishaq, in 1997, and he was accused in more than 200 criminal cases involving the killing of 70 Shiites. But the prosecution could never prove the charges, in part because of witness and judge intimidation, and he went free in 2011.
Also Monday, a radical prayer leader in Islamabad and 19 others were acquitted in the 2007 killing of a security officer, the cleric's lawyer said.
Maulana Abdul Aziz was the prayer leader of the capital's Red Mosque, a sanctuary for militants opposed to Pakistan's support of the U.S.-run war in Afghanistan. As opposition to the war grew, the mosque became a center of religious agitation against the government, with armed students taking over the complex.
Pakistani security officials later stormed the complex and 102 people were killed in the resulting week-long operation, most of them followers of the mosque.