Bomb at Shia mosque kills 45 in Karachi

March 04, 2013 - 12:54:11 am

Pakistani rescuers work at the site of the bomb blast in Karachi, yesterday.

KARACHI: A suspected suicide bomber attacked Shias as they were leaving a mosque in Pakistan’s commercial capital yesterday, killing at least 45 people and wounding 149, police said.

“It was a powerful blast on a congested Shia-dominated area,” senior police official Shabir Ahmad Sheikh said of the attack, the latest signal that Sunni militant groups are stepping up pressure on the minority sect.

Military offensives and US drone strikes against the Taliban in Pakistan in recent years have reduced the number of suicide attacks on government and military targets.

But Sunni groups, most prominently Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), have escalated attacks against Shias, who they believe are non-Muslims. Bombings targeting Shias have killed nearly 200 people in the city of Quetta alone since the start of the year. 

While the Quetta carnage grabbed world attention, a probe into a lesser known spate of murders in Karachi suggests the violence is taking on a volatile new dimension as a small number of Shias fight back.

Pakistan’s Western allies have traditionally been fixated on the challenge posed to the brittle, nuclear-armed state by Taliban militants battling the army in the bleakly spectacular highlands on the Afghan frontier.

But a cycle of tit-for-tat killings on the streets of Karachi points to a new type of threat: A campaign by LeJ and allied Pakistani anti-Shia groups to rip open sectarian fault-lines in the city of 18 million people. Pakistani intelligence agents say the LeJ has become a major security threat in Pakistan that is also struggling with a fragile economy, dilapidated infrastructure and widespread poverty.

Shia frustrations are rising with each blast. Shias fired weapons in the air yesterday night in Karachi, a bustling metropolis plagued by ethnic and political violence and crime. 

“The explosion was so massive it jolted the entire area,” said witness Ali Reza. “Two flats and nearby shops caught fire after the explosion and balconies of various buildings collapsed.”

Another witness, Muhammad Kazim, said women and children who were shopping nearby were wounded.