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07 May 2004 13:22
A powerful bomb exploded at a Shiite Muslim mosque packed with worshippers in the southern port city of Karachi on Friday, killing at least 14 people and wounding scores of others in a suspected suicide attack, police and hospital officials said.
President General Pervez Musharraf condemned the blast as a “heinous act of terrorism” and ordered an immediate investigation to trace the culprits.
The attack occurred shortly after 1pm at a mosque inside a government-run religious school, shattering windows and pocking the walls with shrapnel and splattered blood. Bits of flesh and pools of blood lay all around as rescue workers tended to the wounded.
The school, which houses students aged four to 18, has separate mosques for Sunni and Shiite Muslim worshippers.
Witnesses said the school had let out early, as it normally does on Fridays.
The bombing triggered unrest in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Hundreds of Shiite youths burned cars, petrol pumps and a government office in the city, which has been hit by frequent acts of terrorism and sectarian violence.
Tariq Jamin, Deputy Inspector General of the Karachi police, said 14 people were killed in the bombing and more than 100 injured.
However, Dr Razar Ali said 215 wounded were brought to Karachi’s Civil hospital, of whom 45 were still hospitalised. Most of the rest were released after treatment for minor injuries or had been transferred to other hospitals.
Sadir Durrani, a police explosives expert at the site of the blast at the Sindh Madrassah tul Islam school, said he had found no timing or radio devices, indicating it may have been caused by a suicide bomber.
Chief investigator Manzoor Mughal said no crater was found at the blast point, suggesting a person was carrying the bomb. Several injured people had described a man in a black robe and black turban who was sitting near the column where the bomb exploded.
“We are still investigating, but it seems it was a suicide bombing,” he said.
One of the men injured in the blast described the devastation.
“I was inside the mosque for Friday prayers when a bomb exploded with a huge bang,” said Kalb e-Abbas (23). “Something hit my arm, and I saw blood all over my body.”
E-Abbas said he could hear the cries of the injured people around him before stumbling out of the building.
Aftab Sheikh, a senior politician responsible for law and order in Sindh province, where Karachi is located, blamed anti-state elements for the blast, but would not elaborate.
Sheikh said “today’s bomb attack was carried out by those people who were behind other terrorist attacks in Karachi”.
“I condemn this attack, it was a barbaric act,” he added.
Rescue officials piled blood-stained carpets outside the shattered mosque. Television footage from inside Civil hospital showed victims lying on the floor, bleeding and dazed, as doctors and nurses hurried between them.
Muslim clerics appealed for blood from mosque loudspeakers throughout the city.
The provincial government announced it would give 100 000 rupees compensation to families of the dead, and 30 000 rupees to each of the injured.
Police have been on alert in Karachi since April, when they found weapons and explosives in a raid on a building. It was not clear, however, if the mosque attack was linked to that weapons find.
About 80% of Pakistan’s 150-million people are Sunni, and the rest Shiite. Most live together in peace, but radical groups on both sides are responsible for frequent deadly attacks.
In March, Sunni radicals attacked a procession in the southwestern city of Quetta, killing more than 40 people and wounding 150. Another bomb attack in Quetta injured two people on Friday, a day before Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali was scheduled to inaugurate an international investment conference at a nearby hotel.
Mirza Yousuf Hussein, a local Shiite leader, claimed terrorists based in a tribal region near the border with Afghanistan were behind the blast, although he offered no evidence to back up his claim. He blamed the government for giving amnesty to militants there after a military operation in March.
“Instead of giving them amnesty and relief they should be taken to task, otherwise the security agencies should be ready for such incidents elsewhere,” Hussein said. “The government knows who is behind this gory act.”
Police said they were avoiding the use of force against the rioters, who witnesses said burned seven cars, two petrol pumps and a government office. Police were negotiating with Shiite leaders to seek their support to control the situation.—Sapa-AP
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