KOHAT, Pakistan (Reuters) – Suspected pro-Taliban militants shot and killed four Shi’ite Muslims in northwest Pakistan on Tuesday in what appeared to be the second deadly sectarian attack in two days.
Pakistan has a bloody history of violence between militants from the majority Sunni community and minority Shi’ites and a recent spate of attacks could be the work of pro-Taliban militants seeking to open a new front, a Shi’ite leader said.
Separately, the government’s top Interior Ministry official told parliament authorities had foiled suicide attacks on a protest by lawyers last week, arresting six suspected suicide bombers.
In Tuesday’s attack, gunmen opened fire from a car at a group of men in the main market of the town of Hangu.
“The men were from the same family and were killed on the spot. It appears to be a sectarian attack,” said senior Hangu police official Quresh Khan.
The attack came a day after four Shi’ite Muslims were killed in a bomb attack on a mosque in the northwestern town of Dera Ismail Khan, where four Shi’ites and a policemen were killed in a drive-by shooting late last month.
Also on Tuesday, police in Hangu found the body of a Shi’ite Muslim taxi driver who was kidnapped last week.
A Shi’ite political leader said pro-Taliban militants based in tribal regions on the Afghan border, who are hardline Sunnis, were likely behind the violence.
“It’s shocking … It could be the work of militants fighting in tribal areas who may want to open a new front or foreign hands who want uncertainty in Pakistan,” said Abdul Jalil Naqvi, a leader of a Shi’ite party, the Islami Tehrik.
Thousand of people have been killed in tit-for-tat sectarian attacks in Pakistan over nearly three decades.
Shi’ites make up about 15 percent of Pakistan’s population of 160 million people. The huge majority of ordinary members of the two Muslim sects live together peacefully.
A new government that emerged from elections in February is trying to negotiate an end to militant violence, and attacks, particularly on the security forces, have eased off in recent months.
But six people were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack on the Danish embassy in Islamabad on June 2.
The Interior Ministry’s top official, Rehman Malik, told the National Assembly that, as well as arresting six suspected suicide bombers, authorities had seized 45 kg (100 lb) of explosives that were to have been used to attack the lawyers’ protest.
Lawyers staged a peaceful three-day motorcade protest across the country last week to press their demands that judges President Pervez Musharraf dismissed last year be reinstated.