At least 21 die in explosion outside mosque

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At least 21 people have been killed by a suicide bomber who blew himself up outside a Shiite mosque in north-western Pakistan as worshippers were leaving Friday prayers.

More than 36 were injured in the latest apparent sectarian attack in the country.

Shiite Muslims in Pakistan have increasingly been targeted by radical Sunnis who consider them heretics, and 2012 was the bloodiest year for the minority sect in the country’s history.

There were conflicting reports about the exact number of dead in the attack on the mosque in the town of Hangu in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. One police officer said 20 had died.

Most of the dead and wounded were Shiites, but some of the casualties were also from the country’s majority sect since there is a Sunni mosque nearby.

Hangu has experienced conflict in the past between the Sunni and Shiite communities that live in the town. Both sides have attacked each other’s shops and burned them.

The worst sectarian violence in Pakistan in recent years has been in south-western Baluchistan province, which has the largest concentration of Shiites in the country.

A twin bombing last month at a billiards hall in the provincial capital, Quetta, killed 86 people, most of them Shiites.

In November, 23 Shiite Muslims were killed by a bomb in the city of Rawalpindi, and last month 19 pilgrims died in an attack on a bus convoy in Baluchistan.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than 400 Shiites were killed in targeted attacks in Pakistan in 2012, including over 120 in Baluchistan.

The latest atrocity came just hours after a roadside bomb killed two Pakistani polio workers on their way to vaccinate children in a tribal region near the Afghan border. The two men were on their way to Malikhel village as part of the UN-backed anti-polio campaign when the bomb hit their motorcycle. Islamic militants are suspected for the attack, the third of the week against polio workers .