Ten killed in attack on Pakistan Shi'ite ceremony

At least 10 people were killed in Pakistan and around 25 wounded on Thursday in a possible suicide attack on Shi’ite Muslims celebrating one of their holiest holidays, senior officials said.

Gunfire and a series of explosions tore into a procession of Shi’ites in the north-west town of Hangu as they were marking Ashura, a mourning ceremony for the seventh-century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.

Angry Shi’ites went on the rampage after the blasts, torching local businesses and cars, and troops were sent to take control of the situation, police said. Officials blamed the attack on militants linked to Sunni Muslims.

“We have confirmed reports that 10 people were killed in the explosion and around 25 were injured,” said Hangu mayor Ghaniur Rehman.

Rehman said there were two explosions, one near a stage where around 1 000 people gathered to hear religious leaders speaking and another seconds later about 300m away.

“There was chaos in the procession and then people started torching shops. A passenger bus came under fire and many people were injured but now the situation is getting under control,” he said.

Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told Agence France-Presse that at least eight people were killed in what we called a “possible” suicide blast followed by other explosions.

The minister said army and paramilitary forces had moved into Hangu to control the unrest.
He said announcements had been made from local mosques urging calm while security had been boosted across the country.

Pakistan’s majority Sunnis and minority Shi’ites generally live in harmony but thousands of people from both communities have been killed across the country in sectarian attacks in recent years.

Hangu, which is near Kohat, a major town in North West Frontier Province around 50km from the Afghanistan border, was the scene of sectarian violence during Ashura in 2001 in which 12 people were killed.

Local Shi’ite leader Khurshid Anwar Sajidi said he saw 15 bodies but the figure could not be confirmed and may have included injured people lying motionless.

“I was standing near the stage and some people on the stage were reciting mourning verses when there was a huge explosion followed by gunfire,” he said.

“I think it was a suicide attack because there was no place to hide the bomb near the stage,” he said.

Bashir Ahmed, a local police officer who was in the procession, said: “There was panic in the crowd. There were two more explosions and then there was chaos.”

Police sources and Shi’ite leaders in Hangu also said the attack was probably carried out by a suicide bomber and that the initial blast was followed by other explosions.

“Local officials told us yesterday [Wednesday] that three terrorists had entered Hangu who might carry out attacks but they had not tracked them down,” said Irshad al-Hussaini, a local Shi’ite elder.

Paramilitary reinforcements have been sent from neighbouring towns because police were unable to cope, residents and officials said.

“The mob has taken control of the city forcing the police to flee. Rampaging crowds of angry Shi’ites have set fire to public and private property and there is chaos and rioting in the city,” one resident said.

Pakistan has massively beefed up security for Ashura—the 10th day in the Muslim mourning month of Muharram—which is a favourite target of Sunni militants.

Many Shi’ites mark the ceremony by publicly wailing and by whipping themselves with knives attached to chains.

President Pervez Musharraf has led a major crackdown on Islamic extremism since allying Pakistan with the United States following the September 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington. - AFP