© Banaras Khan/AFP/Getty ImagesA Pakistani security official stands beside the destroyed bus that was carrying Shia Muslim pilgrims, in Mastung.
Nineteen dead, according to officials, as killer smashes truck laden with explosives into Baluchistan bus bound for Iran

A suicide bomber driving a vehicle packed with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Shia Muslim pilgrims in south-west Pakistan on Sunday, killing 19 people, a government official and witnesses said.

Earlier on Sunday, 21 tribal policemen believed to have been kidnapped by the Taliban were found shot dead in Pakistan's troubled north-west tribal region, government officials said.

Pakistan has experienced a spike in killings over the last year by radical Sunni Muslims targeting Shias who they consider heretics. The violence has been especially pronounced in Baluchistan province, where the latest attack occurred.

In addition to the 19 people killed in the bombing in Baluchistan's Mastung district, 25 others were wounded, many of them critically, said Tufail Ahmed, a local political official. The blast completely destroyed the bus that was hit and damaged a second bus carrying Shias that was close by.

A witness who was travelling in the second bus told Pakistan's Geo TV that first bus contained over 40 pilgrims headed to neighbouring Iran, a majority Shia country that is a popular religious tourism destination.

A second witness said the bomber rushed by in a pick-up truck, swerved in front of the first bus and slammed on the brakes. The bus slammed into the pick-up truck and then a big explosion occurred. Neither of the witnesses provided their names while being interviewed on TV.

Shias make up around 15% of Pakistan's 190 million people. They are scattered around the country, but the province of Baluchistan has the largest community, mainly made up of ethnic Hazaras, easily identified by their facial features which resemble those of Central Asians.

The 21 tribal policemen who were shot dead were found by officials early on Sunday, in the Jabai area of Frontier Region Peshawar after being notified by one policeman who escaped, said Naveed Akbar Khan, a top political official in the area. Another policeman was found seriously wounded, said Khan.

The 23 policemen went missing before dawn on Thursday, when militants armed with rocket-propelled grenades and automatic weapons attacked two posts in FRP. Two policemen were also killed in the attacks.

Militants lined the policemen up on a cricket pitch late on Saturday night and gunned them down, said another local official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to talk to the media.

Also on Sunday, two Pakistani soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb in the North Waziristan tribal area, the main sanctuary for Taliban and al-Qaida militants in the country, security officials said.

Source: Associated Press