QUETTA, Pakistan – The number of people killed in the bombing of a festival at a Shiite Muslim (search) shrine rose to at least 30 Sunday, and frightened pilgrims jammed onto buses trying to escape the southwestern village that was hosting the annual veneration of a Shiite saint.
The bomb, which also injured 20, went off Saturday, hitting devotees as they were eating dinner at the shrine in Fatehpur village, 210 miles south of Quetta in restive Baluchistan province.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack on the event attended by both Shiite and Sunni Muslims, as well as minority Hindus (search).
Shoaib Nausherwani, Baluchistan's home minister, said 30 people died, up from 27 Saturday, but did not explain the three new reported deaths. The shrine's caretaker, Syed Sadiq Shah, put the death toll at 44.
The blast left a 2-foot deep crater and added to security woes in Baluchistan province, hit last week by fighting between government forces and renegade tribesmen.
Police puzzled over the motive for the attack on the event. Officials said it could have been religious violence or the result of a personal dispute over control of the shrine of 19th century Shiite saint Syed Raqil Shah.
"This is the biggest gathering in Baluchistan. Everyone comes here, even Hindus. There is no distinction here between a Shiite and a Sunni," Shah said. "God's curse be on those who did this. They have killed innocent people."
"This is a sad and terrible moment for us," said Faiz Mohammed, a pilgrim boarding a bus — one of many departing Fatehpur with hordes of passengers aboard, crammed inside and sitting atop.
"We come here every year, and this year we saw lots of people lose their loved ones," said the native of Jacobabad, a city in Sindh province.
The pilgrims came from other regions of Baluchistan or neighboring Sindh province to mark the anniversary of the death of the saint whose tomb is inside the shrine.
Up to 20,000 people had gravitated over the weekend for the three-day event at Fatehpur, an arid village of about 50 mud brick homes.
Provincial police chief Chaudhry Mohammed Yaqoob said investigators believed the blast was caused by a time bomb packed with about 6.6 pounds of explosive and ruled out an initial theory it was a suicide attack. He said the bomb went off in a crowded area.
Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence, mostly blamed on rival majority Sunni and minority Shiite extremist groups. About 80 percent of Pakistan's 150 million people are Sunnis and 17 percent Shiites.
Pakistan also has faced repeated terror attacks by Islamic militants against Western, religious and government targets, amid anger at President Gen. Pervez Musharraf's support of the U.S.-led fight against Al Qaeda and the Taliban since late 2001.
Shah, the shrine's caretaker, said he was distributing food to worshippers at the shrine when the bomb detonated nearby. He was unhurt.
"The sound of the explosion was terrifying. I saw some people being blown up into the air. Then I saw body parts falling. Then there was a stampede. People were running about everywhere. Nobody knew what had happened," he said.