A suicide bomber struck a rally in the Pakistani city of Quetta on Friday, killing at least 54 people in the second major attack this week and piling pressure on a U.S.-backed government overwhelmed by a flood crisis.
Pakistan’s Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast and said it would launch attacks in the United States and Europe “very soon” — repeating a threat to strike Western targets in response to drone attacks that have targeted its leadership.
In Washington, the White House condemned the Quetta attack on a Shi’ite rally and expressed solidarity with the Pakistani people, saying it was “even more reprehensible” because it came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan as Pakistan reels from disastrous flooding.
A U.S. counterterrorism official said the threat by the al Qaeda-linked Taliban against the United States and Europe could not be discounted.
The attack came just two days after Washington added the Pakistani Taliban to its list of “foreign terrorist organizations” and charged its leader, Hakimullah Mehsud, with plotting a bombing that killed seven CIA agents at a U.S. base in Afghanistan last December.
In Quetta, dozens of dead and wounded people lay in pools of blood as fires engulfed vehicles. Senior police official Hamid Shakeel told Reuters at least 54 people were killed and about 160 wounded.
Hours later, the Taliban said the bombing was revenge for the killing of radical Sunni clerics by Shi’ites, further challenging Pakistan’s unpopular civilian government.
“We take pride in taking responsibility for the Quetta attack,” Qari Hussain Mehsud, a senior Pakistani Taliban and mentor of suicide bombers, told Reuters.
Earlier in the day, the Taliban also claimed responsibility for bombings on Wednesday at a Shi’ite procession in the eastern city of Lahore in which at least 33 people died.
Those blasts were the first major attack since the worst floods in Pakistan’s history began more than a month ago. The Taliban and its allies often target religious minorities in a campaign to destabilize the government.