Van attack kills at least 18 in South West Pakistan: Officials

Van attack kills at least 18 in South West Pakistan: Officials
Quetta, Pakistan: At least 18 people were killed on Friday in a huge blaze that erupted after gunmen opened fire on a passenger van at a petrol stall in restive southwest Pakistan, officials said.

Senior local official Abdul Mansoor Kakar said that four gunmen opened fire on the van with automatic rifles, igniting petrol drums by the roadside and triggering a massive inferno.

The incident took place in the outskirts of Khuzdar, around 250 kilometres (155 miles) southwest of Quetta, the capital of insurgency-hit Baluchistan province.

Baluchistan is one of Pakistan's most impoverished and dangerous provinces, despite having large gas and oil reserves, and it is plagued by sectarian violence as well as attacks by Taliban militants and separatist insurgents.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

A number of stalls selling petrol smuggled from Iran were engulfed in the fire, Mr Kakar said, with stallholders among the dead.

"Four attackers riding motorbikes opened fire on these petrol stalls and ran away after the attack," Mr Kakar said.

"At least 18 people have been killed in the fire. The dead included seven women and four children sitting in the passenger van."

Doctor Akbar Harifal, the top administrative official in Khuzdar confirmed the new death toll, which rose sharply from a previous tally of seven.

Eleven of the 18 bodies have been identified, Mr Kakar said, but hospital officials reported that some were burned so badly that recognition was difficult.

Violence has surged this year in Baluchistan and human rights activists have raised concerns about an increase in targeted killings in the province.

In September Human Rights Watch said more than 100 Shiites had been killed in sectarian attacks in Baluchistan in 2012.

Pakistan's Chief Justice, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, has repeatedly voiced concern over law and order in Baluchistan in recent months, saying the province was "burning" and demanding to know what action the security services were taking.

Baluchistan has some of the most remote communities in Pakistan, miserable social indicators and a deeply traditional society where many women, particularly in the countryside, are rarely allowed to leave the home.