The bodies of 21 blindfolded men have been discovered executed in Pakistan and another 20 people killed in a car bombing in the latest wave of violence carried out by the Taliban.

The bodies of 21 blindfolded men have been discovered executed in Pakistan and another 20 people killed in a car bombing in the latest wave of violence carried out by the Taliban (Reuters)

The men, who were all working for a government backed paramilitary force, were executed overnight after they were kidnapped from their checkpoints in Peshawar, in the north west, last week.

Officials said that they had been blindfolded, lined up, and shot one by one. One man was shot and seriously wounded but survived, the officials said. He was in critical condition and being treated at a local hospital. Another had escaped before the shootings.

In the Mastung district of Baluchistan province, 20 Shi'ite pilgrims died and 24 were wounded when a car bomb targeted their bus convoy as it headed toward the Iranian border in the south west.

Witnesses said that a blast targeted their bus as they were overtaking a car, about 60km (35 miles) west of the capital, Quetta.

"The bus next to us caught on fire immediately," pilgrim Hussein Ali, 60, told Reuters. "We tried to save our companions, but were driven back by the intensity of the heat."

Ihsanullah Ihsan, a Taliban spokesman, claimed responsibility for the attacks. "We killed all the kidnapped men after a council of senior clerics gave a verdict for their execution. We didn't make any demand for their release because we don't spare any prisoners who are caught during fighting," he said.

Month of violence

The attacks have once again focused international attention on Pakistan's government, and raise questions over how committed it is to getting rid of militants within its borders.

Earlier this month, five women working on a UN-backed polio vaccination campaign were killed after gunmen thought to be from the Taliban attacked two Pakistani cities.

While Western powers are more focused on al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, intelligence officials in Pakistan claim that extremist Sunni groups, led by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, are a greater threat as they are trying to topple the government by sparking sectarian warfare.

Military officials say that there is a power struggle among the group's leadership around whether it should cease attacks on the Pakistani state and join groups fighting US-led forces in Afghanistan instead. The Taliban denies any top-level rift.

Although Pakistan's military has been able to regain some power from the Taliban, the latest deadly attacks underscore the presence the group still has.

The bombing and executions came after a recent string of bold attacks.

This month, suicide bombers attacked Peshawar's airport, and a bomb killed a senior Pashtun nationalist politician and eight other people at a rally on December 22.

The New York-based NGO, Human Rights Watch, has said that more than 320 Shias have been killed this year in Pakistan. The organisation said that such attacks were on the rise, adding that the government's failure to catch or prosecute perptrators suggested it was "indifferent" to the killings.

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