Karachi shuts down to mourn bomb victims

2009-12-29 11:05

PAKISTAN’S financial capital, Karachi, shut down today to mourn its

worst attack in two years and count the cost of rioting after a suicide bomber

killed 40 people at a Shiite Muslim procession yesterday.

The bomber detonated explosives strapped to his body, turning the

Shiites’ holiest day of Ashura into a bloodbath.

Within minutes furious mourners went on the rampage, throwing

stones at ambulances and torching cars and buildings.

The bombing and ensuing riots underscored the extent of the

volatility in Pakistan, where militant attacks have killed more than 2?760

people since July 2007 and which Washington has put on the frontline of its war

on Al-Qaeda.

Investigators retrieved the head and torso of the bomber and blamed

the Taliban, against which the military has waged a major operation near the

Afghan border, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, another feared Islamist network.

“The explosion ripped his legs off but the upper part of his body

remained intact with his head. The bomber used 16kg of highly explosive material

in his attack,” said bomb disposal official Munir Shaikh.

The government announced a day of mourning, closing schools, shops

and offices, with streets eerily quiet and traffic on the roads thin.

Funeral prayers were heard at the Imambargah Shiite mosque close to

the scene of the attack.

Firefighters struggled throughout the night to extinguish a fire at

the nearby markets set ablaze by rioters, as stunned vendors waited to salvage

anything left.

An AFP reporter said the area was littered with abandoned sandals,

water bottles, lunch boxes and the charred wreckage of cars and buses.

Mohammad Hanif, a plastic toys vendor, said the bombing had robbed

him of his livelihood.

“Terrorists have not only killed people attending the procession

but they killed us and our families who depended on this shop,” Hanif


Mayor Mustafa Kamal said losses could run into billions of rupees

and said the government would compensate traders.

“The losses are huge. We will try to compensate people as much as

we can with the help of federal and provincial governments,” Kamal said.

Sindh police chief Salahuddin Babar Khattak said a special

investigation team had been set up to probe the bombing.

Sectarian violence periodically flares in Pakistan between Shiites,

who beat and whip themselves in religious fervour during Ashura, and the

country’s majority Sunnis, who oppose the public display of grief.

Shiites account for about 20% of Pakistan’s mostly Sunni Muslim

population of 167?million.

More than 4000 people have died in sectarian

violence in Pakistan since the late 1980s.

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