QUETTA, Pakistan: Mourners from the Shiite Hazara community react as they gather with the coffins of the miners who were killed in an attack by gunmen in the mountainous Machh area, during a sit-in protest at the eastern bypass, on the outskirts of Quetta yesterday.-AFP

QUETTA: Thousands of mourners from a minority community in Pakistan on Monday protested alongside the bodies of miners killed in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group. The 10 miners were kidnapped before dawn on Sunday as they slept near the remote coal mine in the southwestern mountainous Machh area — 60 kilometers southeast of Quetta city, local government official Abid Saleem said.

Up to 2,500 protesters gathered with eight of the bodies in coffins and blocked a bypass on the outskirts of Quetta, capital of oil and gas-rich Balochistan province, demanding justice. “We will not end our protest until the arrest of all the assassins,” chief of Balochistan Shiite Conference, Agha Daud, said.

“The latest wave of killings will spread to other cities including Quetta if a decisive action is not taken at this stage,” he added. Security officials who did not want to be named told AFP the attackers first separated the miners before tying their hands and feet and taking them into the hills to kill them. At least four were beheaded, they added.

Two of the miners were Afghans and their bodies have been sent to Afghanistan for burial, a local security official said. Officials on Monday clarified ten people had died in the attack, revising a previous death toll of 11. Extremist group IS claimed the attack, according to SITE Intelligence, which monitors jihadist activities worldwide.

Ethnic Hazaras make up most of the Shiite population in Quetta, the capital of Balochistan-the country’s largest and poorest region, rife with ethnic, sectarian and separatist insurgencies. They have proven to be particularly vulnerable with their distinct Central Asian features making them easy targets for Sunni militants who consider them heretics.

Pakistani officials have long denied the presence of IS in the country, but the group has claimed a number of attacks in the past including a bombing at a vegetable market in 2019. Though Pakistan’s mines are notorious for poor safety standards, such attacks against miners are rare. Pakistan has long been a cauldron of unrest and sectarian violence, with the official Islamic Republic home to myriad sects of Islam and religious minorities that have been targeted by violent extremists for decades. -AFP