Karachi shut schools and businesses to mourn 42 people killed in a car bombing that targeted the city’s Shiite minority and extended a spree of deadly attacks on the Islamic sect to Pakistan’s finance capital.
Women and children were among the dead and more than 135 were wounded in the blast yesterday in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood of the city, the country’s biggest. Apartments and shops were reduced to rubble. While no group has yet claimed responsibility, the Sunni militant Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has carried out previous assaults on Shiites.
The escalation of sectarian attacks in a country already roiled by a Taliban insurgency along its frontier with Afghanistan will heighten tension ahead of a parliamentary election that must be held by early May. Yesterday’s bombing follows blasts this year on Shiite communities in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed about 200 people.
Militants encouraged by the quick release of their leaders following earlier spurts of violence no longer fear a crackdown by security agencies, Tasneem Noorani, a former secretary with the Ministry of Interior, said by phone. “The result is attacks that are happening with such regularity and ferocity.”
While intelligence agencies are concerned they might become targets of guerrilla groups if they act, Pakistani authorities have raised the threshold for violence, he said. “We are now quite comfortable with 10 people dying daily in Karachi or with a blast or two every month,” Noorani said. “Only a breakdown of law and order on a massive scale would delay the election,” he added.
Shiites make up about 15 percent of Pakistan’s population of 200 million people and are considered heretics by extreme groups among the Sunni majority due to differences in religious doctrine dating back to near the beginnings of Islam.
“Government schools in Karachi will remain closed due to mourning,” said Allah Bachayo Memon, spokesman for the Chief Minister’s House in Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital. Associations of transporters, traders and private colleges will join the strike called by the Jafaria Alliance, a Shiite body. Financial markets were open.
A suicide attacker rammed his explosives-laden car into barriers placed to protect Abbas Town, a Shiite-dominated housing complex, said Amjad Kayani, a police officer. Many of the dead were leaving a local Imambargah, or congregation hall, after saying prayers, he said.
The U.S. State Department in 2003 listed LeJ as a terrorist group, saying it had links to al-Qaeda and was involved with the 2002 kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal correspondent Daniel Pearl in Pakistan.
Last week, Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the LeJ was responsible for 80 percent of terrorist activity in the country, Geo television reported.
As protests spread nationwide following a Feb. 16 bombing in Quetta, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf ordered a security operation to detain those believed to be behind the strikes. Some senior members of the LeJ were detained, Associated Press reported, including Malik Ishaq, a founder.
Long used to militant violence, Pakistan’s main share index, the benchmark KSE 100, has risen 7.5 percent this year amid the surge in attacks on Shiite targets and fighting in the northwestern tribal belt. The rupee has weakened 1 percent against the dollar, as loan repayments squeezed the country’s foreign-exchange reserves.
Some 170 apartments, 70 shops and many vehicles were either destroyed or damaged by the blast yesterday.
The city of 18 million people, whose banks and businesses generate 45 percent of the country’s economy, has for years witnessed spikes in violence involving members of rival political parties, ethnic communities or criminal groups. More than 2,000 people died in attacks in the city in 2012, according to police data.
At least 400 Shiites died from violence in 2012 in Pakistan, according to New York-based Human Rights Watch. More than 120 were killed in Baluchistan, of which Quetta is the provincial capital.
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