- Special Pages
KARACHI: Thousands of Pakistanis attended funerals yesterday for victims of a bombing that killed 48 people in a Shia area of Karachi, the latest in a series of devastating attacks ahead of elections.
The bomb exploded in Abbas Town as worshippers came out of mosques, ripping through two apartment blocks, setting one of them on fire and trapping people beneath piles of rubble. Survivors are being housed temporarily in schools.
There has been no claim of responsibility, but suspicion will likely fall on banned Sunni extremist organisation Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has claimed major attacks on Shias in Quetta, and on the Pakistani Taliban.
Thousands, including women and children, many wearing black bands around their heads, beat their chests and heads and sobbed as eight coffins passed by at the start of the first funeral.
Traffic was thin as educational institutions, businesses and markets closed after the local government announced one day of mourning and Shia groups three days of mourning for those killed in Sunday’s bombing.
About 4,000 people turned out for the funerals, police said.
Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city and business hub, but is plagued by sectarian, ethnic and political violence, which last year killed more than 2,200 people and routinely forces closures.
Rights groups have criticised the government for failing to stop sectarian murders and bombings and bring to justice those responsible.
“Terrorists are killing us but the government is not taking any action to eliminate them,” said Mohsin Ali, 29, a Shia whose elder brother was killed. “How long will we keep losing our children, our relatives?”
Survivors could be seen searching for personal belongings such as jewellery from the rubble of their apartments.
“The government should provide us with arms to deal with terrorists if their agencies are unable to bring them to book,” said Azam Khan, a Sunni, who said he had taken several of the dead to hospital.
“We will vote for those who eliminate these terrorists. We are not ready to be hoodwinked by empty slogans any more.”
Officials said around 150 people were wounded.
Although Abbas Town is a mainly Shia neighbourhood, officials said some Sunnis were among the dead.
So far hospitals have released 13 bodies for burial with the rest yet to be formally identified, officials said.
Parliament is due to dissolve in two weeks in preparation for elections. But rising violence against Shias, who make up around 20 percent of the 180 million population, has raised security questions.
“Things could take a turn for the worse as tensions increase ahead of the elections,” The News wrote in an editorial yesterday.
Last year was the deadliest on record for Shias, with more than 400 killed, according to Human Rights Watch.
The Supreme Court ordered the authorities to come up with a strategy to protect Shias after bomb attacks in the southwest on January 10 and February 16 killed nearly 200 people.
Police on February 22 detained Lashkar-e-Jhangvi leader Malik Ishaq for 30 days under a law intended to maintain public order.
He was detained briefly in 2012 for inciting sectarian hatred, having been released on bail in 2011 despite being implicated in dozens of murders.
The Pakistani Taliban have also increased attacks in recent months, leading to fears they could disrupt elections in May.
Last month the group proposed talks with Islamabad. But the government insists the militants must declare a ceasefire before coming to the negotiating table, a condition they have rejected.
In Beijing, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman expressed China’s condemnation of the blast.
“China opposes all forms of terrorism,” Hua Chunying said.
China also feels deep sadness for the victims and extends its condolences to the injured and the family members of the victims, she said. “China supports the unremitting efforts made by Pakistan’s government and people to safeguard national stability,” she added. Agencies