KURRAM/PESHAWAR - At least eight people were killed when a vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Upper Kurram Agency on Tuesday.

Local sources said that the blast occurred at Khomta area when a passenger vehicle hit by an improvised explosive device passing through area. The high intensity blast badly damaged the vehicle and resulted in killing of eight persons. The injured were shifted to Agency Headquarters Hospital Parachinar where they were provided emergency medical treatment.

As per the hospital administration, four people were killed on the spot while four others succumbed to injuries on way to hospital. Among the injured two were in critical condition.

Soon after the incident heavy contingent of Khasadar Force rushed to the site and cordoned off the area. Political administration tightened security and launched a search operation in the area.

A local man, Merza Shehzad, told The Nation that the victims belonged to Sunni sect and they were targeted in an area dominated by people from Shia sect. Officials said it was a suspected sectarian attack.

The incident took place when a Datsun pick-up truck hit an IED near Parachinar, the main town of Kurram tribal agency which lies along the Afghan border and is a hotbed of both Taliban-linked and Sunni-Shia violence. However, Maqsood Hassan, a local government official told a foreign news agency that "It was a roadside IED, four people died on the spot while three others died in the hospital".

An intelligence official confirmed the incident, adding that the vehicle was carrying people from a Sunni Muslim-dominated area while the bomb was exploded in a Shia area. "Apparently it was a sectarian attack," he said. His account was also confirmed by a resident.

Kurram is frequently the scene of sectarian violence between Sunni Muslim majority and Shia minority. It is so far unclear who is behind this latest attack. Several Taliban-affiliated groups are known to be active in the region. Kurram agency, which is close to the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, is one of the seven regions in Pakistan's Federally-Administered Tribal Areas (Fata), governed by tribal laws.

An extremist insurgency led by the Taliban plagues the region while the area is known to be infested with militants, including the Al-Qaeda, Taliban and several other armed extremist organisations.