QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) – A suicide car bomber struck near the office of the provincial police chief in southwestern Pakistan on Friday, killing at least 11 people and wounding 20, officials said. A breakaway Taliban faction later claimed responsibility for the attack.
The bombing came ahead of the Muslim holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, which follows the holy month of Ramadan, expected to end this weekend.
The explosion near the police chief’s office in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province, was powerful enough that it was heard across the city, shattering windows on nearby buildings, said police spokesman Shahzada Farhat.
Wasim Beg, a spokesman at a government hospital, said the death toll from the bombing had risen to 11 throughout the morning. He said some people remained in critical condition.
TV footage showed several badly damaged cars and a road littered with broken glass.
Hours after the attack, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the bombing. Asad Mansoor, the militants’ spokesman, said the bombing was part of their campaign aimed at enforcing Islamic laws in the country. He vowed more such attacks.
Anwarul Haq Kakar, a spokesman for the provincial government, blamed neighboring India for the blast but offered no evidence to back up the allegation.
Pakistan and India routinely trade charges of interference and inciting attacks on one another’s soil.
On Thursday, Pakistan said that an Indian naval officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, who was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and sabotage, had petitioned for mercy.
Jadhav, who Pakistan said had crossed into Baluchistan from neighboring Iran, was arrested in March 2016 and sentenced to death in April.
In New Delhi, the Ministry of External Affairs insisted Jadhav was sentenced on “concocted charges” and expressed doubts about the existence of the petition for mercy. It also reiterated that the proceedings against Jadhav have been shrouded “in opacity.”
Baluchistan has long been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch nationalists and separatists, who want a bigger share of the regional resources or outright independence, but also attacks blamed on the Pakistani Taliban and others. Those militant groups include Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which is considered a close ally of IS, as well as Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, which has taken credit for several previous attacks in Baluchistan and elsewhere and has bases in Pakistan’s tribal regions.
Associated Press writers Katy Daigle in New Delhi and Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.