On Monday, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia procession commemorating Ashura in Karachi, killing at least 25 people and injuring 50. Today’s incident on MA Jinnah Road was the latest in a string of violence in Pakistan this past weekend. Following the assassination of mid-level political administrator Sarfaraz Khan and his family in the Kurram tribal area Sunday, a suicide bomber killed at least 10 people and wounded more than 80 during a Shia religious procession in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-administered Kashmir. According to the Guardian, this attack “shook the authorities as the city and region has a much better record of Shia-Sunni relations during Muharram than most other parts of Pakistan.”
On Sunday, more than a dozen people were wounded in an incident in Karachi. Although the bombing was later attributed “to a build-up of gas in faulty sewage pipes,” extra paramilitary troops had reportedly been mobilized in Karachi and the rest of the country had been put on “red alert” prior to Muharram (in Lahore, all entry and exit points to Shia processions for Ashura were sealed and all participants had to reportedly queue for scanners). Despite the heightened security and “stringent” measures, a bomber walking amid the procession managed to blow himself up during the climax of Muharram, when worshipers were commemorating the death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson.
The anger and fear following Monday’s attack in Karachi was palpable, manifested by people in the crowd firing shots into the air and others pelting police and medical teams with stones. According to Al Jazeera, “Local television stations reported that more than a dozen vehicles and a four-story building were also set ablaze by people reacting to the attack.” Talat Hussain from AAJ Television told the news agency, “People have been saying that the government has been apathetic to the listening to the warnings of potential attacks and people’s fears.”
Numerous political officials condemned the bombing Monday and appealed for calm. Karachi’s mayor Mustafa Kamal asserted, “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.” MQM leader Altaf Hussain, speaking to GEO News, echoed this appeal but added that he had been “repeatedly warning the citizens of Karachi and Pakistan” about the threat of Talibanization. “The authorities,” he noted, “did not pay heed to my warnings.”
Interior Minister Rehman Malik showed off his business euphemisms Monday when he appealed to Shias to cancel their next two days of processions, adding, “This pattern shows that this was a joint venture between Tehreek-i-Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ).” This recognition of a connection between the “Pakistani Taliban” and the militant groups in Punjab is significant, particularly since groups like the LeJ and Sipah-e-Sahba are sectarian (anti-Shia) in essence.
In the April issue of the CTC Sentinel, Hassan Abbas wrote that the LeJ is believed to be “the lynch pin of the alignment between Al Qaeda, the Pakistani Taliban and sectarian groups.” In the Long War Journal‘s coverage of Monday’s Karachi bombing, Bill Roggio noted the LeJ has a strong presence in South Waziristan, “where it formed alliances with the Taliban, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Al Qaeda, and created a group called the Fedayeen-e-Islam,” which claimed responsibility for several attacks, including September 2008 attack on Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel and the March 2009 storming of the Lahore police station. In the wake of the military’s operation in South Waziristan, the LeJ and militants part of the TTP network reportedly shifted fighters to Karachi. Roggio noted, “Last week, Karachi police told the Daily Times that they had intelligence that indicated Lashkar-e-Jhangvi would strike at the Shia in Karachi.”