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Jan 30, 7:53 AM EST

Bomb blast in southern Pakistan kills 35 at Shiite mosque


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ISLAMABAD (AP) -- A bomb blast ripped through a Shiite mosque in southern Pakistan as worshippers were gathering for Friday prayers, killing 35 people and wounding dozens, officials said.

The blast was the deadliest sectarian attack to hit the country in months and comes as Pakistan is already struggling to contain a surging militancy following the horrific Peshawar school attack that killed 150 people in December.

The Sunni militant group Jundallah claimed responsibility for the attack, which took place in the city of Shikarpur in Sindh province, roughly 500 kilometers (310 miles) north of Karachi.

This area of Pakistan has largely been spared the intense attacks and violence seen over the years in the northwestern tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and also the port city of Karachi, indicating the country's terrorism challenges could extend into new territory.

The bodies of 31 people were brought to Shikarpur hospital, said Sain Rakhio Mirani, the deputy inspector general for Shikarpur district where the blast occurred. He said another four people died on the way to a hospital in the nearby city of Sukkur.

In a sign of how serious the explosion was, Dr. Shaukat Ali Memon, who heads the hospital in Shikarpur, appealed on Pakistan's state television for residents to donate blood for the wounded.

Pakistani television showed area residents and worshippers frantically ferrying the dead and wounded to the hospital. Local media reported that parts of the roof had collapsed on the worshippers, and some people had been trapped inside.

Initial reports suggest that it was a bomb planted in the area, Mirani.

Fahad Mahsud, a spokesman for the Sunni militant group Jundullah, claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to The Associated Press, but gave no details about how it was carried out. The militant group has previously claimed responsibility for attacks on Shiites and other religious minorities including a church in the northwestern city of Peshawar in 2013 that killed 85 people.

Many Sunni extremists do not consider Shiites to be true Muslims. Sunni militants in Pakistan have bombed Shiite mosques, killed Shiite pilgrims traveling back and forth to neighboring Iran and assassinated Shiite religious figures or leading Shiite community figures in the country.

While Karachi has been the site of repeated bombings blamed on militant groups such as the Pakistani Taliban, the northern part of Sindh province has generally been much more peaceful.

But recent years have seen a trend of extremist organizations increasingly active in the central and northern part of the province, according to a new report by the United States Institute of Peace.

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Associated Press writers Rebecca Santana in Islamabad, Adil Jawad in Karachi and Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan contributed to this report.

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