At least 25 people have been killed and 60 injured, many critically, in a suicide bomb attack on a religious procession of Shi’ite Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city.
Furious participants in the ceremony turned on police, soldiers and media after the blast which sent smoke billowing over the centre.
Film footage showed police and ambulances with broken windows, as Karachi’s mayor, Mustafa Kamal, appealed for calm. The suicide bomber evaded heightened security during the traditionally tense month of Muharram when Shi’ite’s mourn the death in a seventh-century battle of Muhammed’s grandson Ali which led to their split with mainstream Islam.
Warnings of possible attacks had increased overnight after a suicide bombing on Monday killed eight and wounded 80 in Muzaffarabad, the capital of the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. Scores of lesser incidents of violence between Shi’ite and Sunni Muslims have been reported in the run-up to Ashura, the holiest day of Muharram, which the Karachi march was marking.
Eyewitnesses in Karachi said that armed Shi’ites in the procession fired shots in the air after the bomb blast, while others pelted police and medical teams with stones. Kamal warned that the attack could be related to wider terrorist activity and attempts to destabilise the country during the crisis over al-Qaeda and Afghanistan.
He said: ”I want to appeal to the people, to my brothers, my elders to stay calm. I am hearing people are clashing with police and doctors. Please do not do that. That is what terrorists are aiming at. They want to see this city again on fire.”
Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said the bomber detonated his explosives at the start of the Ashura procession, on the 10th day of Muharram. The provincial health minister, Sagheer Ahmad, warned that the death toll at the city’s Civil hospital could increase because the victims’ injuries were so severe.
The blast follows more than 500 civilian deaths in bomb attacks across Pakistan since mid-October when the country’s army launched an attack on alleged al-Qaeda and Taliban refuges in the border province of South Waziristan. Army commanders said shortly before the attack that security in centres such as Peshawar was ”on red alert”.
Extra paramilitaries had been mobilised in Karachi after an explosion yesterday injured 30, but was later attributed to a build-up of gas in faulty sewage pipes. In the eastern city of Lahore, all entry and exit points to Shi’ite processions for Ashura were sealed and all participants had to queue for scanners.
The attack in Muzzafarabad shook the authorities as the city and region has a much better record of Shi’ite-Sunni relations during Muharram than most other parts of Pakistan. Three police died in the blast, which comes at a time when Kashmiri militant groups have shown signs of turning their traditional focus on Indian-ruled Kashmir into a wider movement with ties to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. – guardian.co.uk