A deadly suicide attack on the main Ashura procession in Karachi on Monday killed at least 25 people and wounded more than 60 people, triggering violence and arson in some parts of Pakistan’s biggest city and its economic nerve-centre.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirmed that it was carried out by a suicide bomber.
Wearing the black clothes of a Shia mourner at Muharram, the bomber joined the tail-end of a slow-moving procession of thousands on Karachi’s main M.A. Jinnah Road as it made its way to the Hussainian-e-Iranian Imambargah.
Television footage showed scenes of panic and chaos in the procession in the minutes after the bomber blew himself up. A cloud of thick black smoke rose from the site of the bombing as angry mourners attacked security personnel and journalists.
Violence was reported from several other parts of the city in the hours after the bombing.
Mobs set fire to vehicles and shops and homes in parts of the city, even as President Asif Ali Zardari, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani and other political leaders joined clerics in appealing for calm.
In a message, Mr. Zardari said “a deliberate attempt seems to be afoot to turn the fight against militants into a sectarian clash and make the people fight against one another” and asked people not to fall into the trap.
This was the third bombing in Karachi in as many days. Despite the security measures in force in the city for Muharram, a car bomb explosion wounded more than 20 people on Saturday, while another explosion on Sunday injured 30 people and sparked rioting in that area.
Farooq Sattar, a leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement which runs the city government of Karachi and is also a member of the ruling coalition in Sindh province and the centre, said the attack was caused by a security lapse despite the best efforts of the administration to secure the procession.
He described it as an attack to “derail the peace of Karachi, to destabilise Karachi which is the jugular vein of Pakistan, the economic centre of Pakistan”.
In the last few years, the month of Muharram has passed without any major incident in Karachi. Dr. Sattar said Monday’s attack was a “deliberate attempt” to unleash sectarian violence between the Shia and Sunni communities of the city.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Sunni militant groups that target the Shia community have a significant presence in Karachi despite a ban on them since 2002.
Also, over the last two years, the MQM has repeatedly warned of the “Talibanisation of Karachi”, and Dr. Sattar said in the last two years, at least 30 “terrorist networks” had been unearthed by the city police and more than a dozen would-be suicide attackers detained.