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 who they do not consider to be true Muslims.
In addition to the 12 killed in the explosion in the town of Parachinar in the Kurram region, 45 people were wounded, said government official Sahibzada Anis. Another government official, Naseer Khan, said all of the dead were Shiite Muslims.
Kurram is the only region along the Afghan border that is majority Shiite, and has seen bloody outbreaks of sectarian violence in recent years.
The emergence over the last 10 years in Pakistan of 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 arrested 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.
Abdul Aziz was allegedly caught by security officials trying to sneak out of the complex. He has already been acquitted in 18 of the 27 cases registered against him. He was freed from house arrest in 2009 and is now back at the mosque leading prayers.
His lawyer, Mohammad Wajihullah Khan, said an anti-terrorism court judge acquitted Aziz along with his family members and some seminary students in the killing of a security officer whose death touched off the military raid of the complex.
Pakistani courts have a notoriously low record of convictions when it comes to terrorism cases. Police often lack basic investigative skills such as the ability to lift fingerprints, and prosecutors lack training to try terror cases. Judges and witnesses often are subject to intimidation that affects the ability to convict.
The U.S. announced Monday that it would spend $70 million to support reconstruction on a key road used to ship supplies to NATO troops in Afghanistan.
The U.S. had agreed to help reconstruct the 46-kilometer (30-mile) highway between the northwest city of Peshawar and the Torkham border crossing during negotiations earlier this year to get Pakistan to reopen the NATO supply route, said a U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to talk freely about the negotiations.
Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies last November in retaliation for a U.S. airstrike that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers at two posts along the Afghan border. Pakistan reopened the route in July after the U.S. apologized for the deaths, which Washington said were an accident.
Associated Press writers Riaz Khan in Peshawar, Pakistan, Zaheer Babar in Lahore, Pakistan, and Sebastian Abbot and Zarar Khan in Islamabad contributed to this report.