(Pakistani Shi'ite Muslims flagellate themselves during Moharram procession in the central city of Multan February 8, 2006. Photo: Reuters)
Explosions hit a procession of Shi'ite Muslims in northwestern Pakistan on Thursday, killing up to eight people, and possibly more, in what could have been a suicide bombing, the interior minister said.
A Shi'ite cleric said up to 20 people were killed in the blasts in the town of Hangu in North West Frontier Province during a procession to mark the Shi'ite mourning month of Moharram, but his figures could not immediately be confirmed.
Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao said there were two explosions.
He said he had conflicting reports as to the number of dead. "It's possibly four to eight and there could be even more," he told Reuters, adding that it could have been a suicide bombing.
He said troops were being sent to restore order after angry Shi'ites went on the rampage and burned shops.
Maulana Khurshid Anwar, a leader of the Shi'ite procession, told Reuters between 15 and 20 people had been killed and several others injured.
Anwar said the blast, which he said was a suicide bombing, happened near a stage from where he was about to address the mourners. Angry Shi'ites started setting shops and a bank on fire after the explosion, he said.
A senior police source, who did not want to be identified, said earlier he had reports of at least four dead. "The injured are being moved to the hospitals, and we expect to get more details soon," he said.
The blast occurred on Ashura, the holiest day for Shi'ites, which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammad.
Pakistan has suffered Islamist sectarian violence for years, most of it directed by majority Sunni Muslims against Shi'ites.