QUETTA, Pakistan: Gunmen opened fire on Pakistani police escorting a Spanish cyclist through a volatile province Wednesday, killing six officers, while a bomb targeting a polio vaccination team killed seven people in the northwest.
The pair of attacks in two different parts of the country was the latest in a surge in violence that left many questioning whether the government has a plan to tackle the country's stubborn militancy problem.
Radical Sunni Islamic militants have stepped up attacks against members of the minority Shiite Muslim sect in recent years, and violence has been especially bad in the impoverished southwestern province of Baluchistan.
On Wednesday, gunmen opened fire at a group of police escorting a Spanish cyclist in Baluchistan, killing six policemen and wounding the cyclist. The attack took place in the district of Mastung, police official Mohammad Ibrahim said, adding that nine officers were also wounded in the shooting.
Ibrahim said more than a dozen tribal policemen were escorting the Spanish cyclist, who was traveling from Iran to Pakistan. The cyclist's name was not immediately available.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack but Ibrahim said he suspected the same sectarian group that targeted a group of Shiite pilgrims returning from Iran on Tuesday was responsible for the Wednesday incident as well.
Police had said 20 people died when a bomb exploded near the pilgrims' bus, but on Wednesday, a local police official, Asad Cheema, said the death toll had risen to 28. Some of the wounded were still listed in critical condition.
Shiite Muslims rallied Wednesday in Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan, demanding action to stop the continued violence against their sect. In a show of protest, they brought many coffins out into the street with the dead from the attack on the pilgrims.
"We will not bury our dear ones until the government acts against the attackers," local Shiite leader Agha Dawood said.
In the northwest - where Islamic militants have repeatedly targeted health workers carrying out anti-polio vaccinations and policemen who are supposed to protect them - a bomb rigged to a bicycle exploded next to a police patrol on its way to guard a polio vaccination team. Six officers were killed as well as a boy who was nearby, said officer Shafiullah Khan.
The blast happened in the Charsadda district, just outside the provincial capital of Peshawar. The bomb also wounded 11 people, four of them tribal policemen, Khan said.
It was the second such attack in the past 24 hours. On Tuesday, gunmen killed three health workers in an attack on a polio vaccination team in the southern port city of Karachi.
Pakistan, one of only three countries in the world where the polio virus is still endemic, has seen relentless attacks on polio vaccination teams.
Militants oppose vaccinations against polio and consider such campaigns a cover for spying against Pakistan and a conspiracy to allegedly make male Muslim children sterile.
The vaccination campaign is also viewed with suspicion by many in Pakistan after a fake vaccination effort was used as a cover by the CIA in its pursuit of Osama bin Laden