Thousands attend funeral as death toll rises to 31

KARACHI: Thousands of people Saturday attended the funeral of 14 people killed in Friday’s double bomb attack in Karachi, as the death toll from the assault rose overnight to 31.

“Six more people died overnight, raising the death toll to 31,” provincial government spokesman Jameel Soomro told AFP.

He said at least 170 wounded people were being treated at various hospitals around Karachi.

At a funeral Saturday for some of those killed, thousands of mourners beat their chests and cried loudly as the bodies of 14 victims were brought to a Karachi sports field.

Pakistani TV channels broadcast live footage from the venue, showing men and women clad in black and carrying black flags, beating their chests and chanting slogans of “Ya Hussein, Ya Hussein.”

“More than 10,000 people attended the funeral of the 14 deceased,” said a local police official, Javed Mehr, who was deployed at the ground.

Mehr told AFP that “the entire area was sealed off by police and paramilitary rangers to avoid any untoward incident.”

Police and paramilitary rangers patrolled streets and sensitive areas and Mehr said security had been stepped up at all hospitals and sensitive areas around Karachi, which has been swept by political violence in recent months.

Most shops in the sprawling city of 18 million people were closed and public transport was off the roads as several thousand mourners gathered at funerals of some of the victims of the two bombs.

Paramilitary spokesman Maj. Aurang Zeb said security forces were on maximum alert at the funeral in the Malir area of the city.

The first attack on Friday killed 12 Shias, followed hours later by a blast at a hospital where the wounded were being treated which killed 13 people.

“It looks like there’s no government in Pakistan,” said Syed Shabbir Hussain, who lost a cousin in the first blast on Friday.

“They always say that there are militants here, and that they will attack. And then they attack, but the police and the government do nothing,” he said at his cousin’s funeral.

Police had initially suspected that the two attacks in Karachi were carried out by suicide bombers but later said the devices were planted. A third bomb, defused at the hospital, was similar in type, indicating just one group was involved.

Senior police investigator Raja Umer Khattab said the Jundullah (Army of God) militant group was behind the attacks.

“This is the same group that carried out the Ashura attack,” he said, referring to a bomb attack at a Shia procession in late December that killed 43 people.

Khattab said some arrests had been made after the December attack but police were hunting for more members.

“We have arrested four members of this group but there are still 12 to 14 militants of this group left, who are planning these attacks,” he said.

The MQM has announced three days of mourning to remember those who lost their lives in the double bombing.

The Jaffria alliance has also called for a citywide strike against the horrifying incident.

The head of the Jaffria Alliance, Allama Abbas Komeli has demanded that the government provide compensation to the victims’ families.

Poltical parites, including the MQM and the ANP have urged the people of Karachi to exercise restraint following the carnage.

Ulema from different schools of thought have strongly condemnned the blast and also announced a mourning period.

The Shia Ulema Council gave a call for mourning soon after the second blast at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre, and appealed to the masses to keep their mourning peaceful and not to get provoked by the fresh series of attacks on processions.

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Blast targets bus in Karachi, 11 killed

KARACHI: A motorcycle rigged with explosives rammed into a bus carrying Shias in Karachi Friday, killing 11 people and wounding 40 in the second such attack in Pakistan’s financial capital in two months.

The attack, in a city largely isolated from bombings concentrated in northwest Pakistan but with a history of sectarian tensions and political violence, underscored the security challenges facing the country.

“Eleven people have been martyred and 40 injured. There are children and women among the killed and wounded,” Doctor Seemi Jamal, the chief of Jinnah Hospital in Karachi, told AFP.

The bus was carrying Shia Muslim mourners to participate in a religious procession to mark the end of the holy month of Muharram in Karachi, a city of 16 million people.

“The bus was carrying Shia mourners. It was full of people and a motorcycle rammed into the bus. The motorcycle was completely destroyed and the bus was heavily damaged,” police official Shahid Hasan told AFP.

City police chief Waseem Ahmad told reporters that the motorcycle was rigged with an improvised-explosive device (IED). It remained unclear whether the motorcycle was being driven by anyone when it struck the bus.

The attack happened on the bridge of the main Faisal highway in the centre of Karachi, shattering windows in nearby buildings, said an AFP reporter.

Ambulances raced through the streets as volunteers helped to evacuate the wounded and armed security forces patrolled the area, television footage showed.

On December 28, a massive bombing killed 43 people at a parade marking the holiest Shia day of Ashura earlier in the month of Muharram.

Pakistan’s feared Taliban network claimed responsibility for that attack, sparking riots that caused huge financial losses.

Security forces were on high alert in Karachi with a wave of political violence killing at least 37 activists from rival parties in the last five days, following 48 similar killings last month.

The Awami National Party (ANP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which have a history of bitter relations, both claim their workers have been shot dead.

The two parties belong to the local governing coalition in southern province Sindh, of which Karachi is the capital, and which is led by President Asif Ali Zardari’s main ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).

MQM represents Muslims who migrated from India after independence and is Karachi’s dominant party. ANP represents an estimated two million Pashtuns who have migrated to Karachi from northwest Pakistan.

Pakistan has seen a recent decline in militant attacks, attributed both to the success of a US drone war and Pakistani offensives in the tribal belt shadowing the Afghan border where Taliban and Al-Qaeda networks are based.

Last month, 153 people were killed by militants in Pakistan — nearly half the 275 killed in October, according to an AFP tally.

Suicide attack on Ashura procession kills 26 in Karachi

KARACHI: A suicide bomber on Monday struck Pakistan’s largest procession of Shia Muslims on the holiest day in their calendar, killing at least 26 people and wounding dozens more, defying a major security clampdown.

The blast unleashed pandemonium at M A Jinnah Road, one of the biggest boulevards in Karachi, where angry mourners threw stones and opened fire into the air, sparking appeals from the authorities for calm.

Tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces had been deployed, fearing sectarian clashes or militant bombings would target the Shia faithful who whip themselves to mourn the seventh-century killing of Imam Hussein.

“It was a suicide attack. He was walking with the procession and he blew himself up,” Interior Minister Rehman Malik told a private television, appealing on the Shia community to suspend their commemorations.

“This pattern shows that this was a joint venture between Tehreek-i-Taliban and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi,” Malik said, referring to two of Pakistan’s most potent militant networks.

Ambulances raced through the streets, ferrying the casualties to hospitals, where state television said medics declared a state of emergency.

According to Inspector General (IG) Sindh, at least 26 people were martyred and more than 70 wounded in the attack.

“We have declared emergency at all hospitals in Karachi and doctors are making every effort to save the injured. The situation is very grim,” provincial health minister Saghir Ahmed told AFP.

It was the second bomb attack to mar Ashura in Pakistan after a suicide bomber blew himself up outside a main Shia mosque in Pakistani-administered Kashmir, killing seven people late Sunday.

Fire broke out after the blast in Karachi, fanning thick smoke into the sky, and people were running in all directions, an AFP reporter said.

Two further explosions were heard, which could have been gas tanks exploding in burning vehicles, and mourners torched a bus, which had blocked off a road for the procession, witnesses said.

DawnNews reported that at least 50 shops and two police stations had been set ablaze. Dozens of vehicles, including two police mobiles, were also torched following the attack.

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani swiftly condemned the blast and also appealed on the masses to remain peaceful, his office said.

In Karachi, the capital of Sindh, more than 50,000 Shias had poured into the streets to commemorate Muharram.

Sectarian violence periodically flares in Pakistan between Shias and the country’s majority Sunnis.

Security has plummeted over the last two and a half years in Pakistan, where militant attacks have killed more than 2,700 people since July 2007 and Washington has put the country on the frontline of its war on Al-Qaeda.

Shias account for about 20 per cent of Pakistan’s mostly Sunni Muslim population of 167 million. More than 4,000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence in Pakistan since the late 1980s.

Small explosives planted in a gutter had ripped through an Ashura procession in Karachi on Sunday wounding 17 people, officials said.