Taliban suicide bombers struck Shia processions in Lahore in back-to-back attacks, killing 29 people and injuring over 200, even as gunmen opened fire at a religious march in Pakistan's commercial capital Karachi wounding seven.
The first blast, caused by a low intensity timed device, went off near the Karbala Gamay Shah Imambargah or prayer hall after 6.45 pm where thousands of Shia Muslims had gathered to observe the Yaum-e-Ali. The suicide bombers struck in nearby areas within the next 30 minutes as members of the procession fled in panic.
Both Karbala Gamay Shah and Bhatti Chowk are located close to the Data Darbar shrine that was recently targeted bysuicide attackers. The News reported that 29 people were killed in the attack. Top health official Fayyaz Ranjha told the media that 28 bodies and 213 injured people were received at Mayo, Services and Sir Gangaram hospitals.
Lahore's District Coordination Officer Sajjad Ahmad Sajjad Bhutta also confirmed that 28 people were killed in the blasts, Dunya News reported. A head of one of the suicide bombers has been recovered, police officials said. Top Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan leader Qari Hussain claimed responsibility for the blasts, saying the attacks were carried out to avenge the killing of Maulana Ali Shair Haidree "by Shia extremists". "I, Qari Hussain, accept responsibility on behalf of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan for the three suicide attacks (fidaee hamla) in Lahore on the Shia procession on the Hazrat Ali day on 1st September, 2010," said an audio statement sent to media by the Taliban. Hussain warned the Taliban would carry out more attacks if the "killing of ulema (clerics) was not stopped". He said: "We will carry out such harsh attacks on them everywhere that they will not be able to live peacefullyin the country."
Earlier, Geo News channel reported that the banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi al-Almi had claimed responsibility for the blasts. A policeman who grappled with one of the suicide attackers and a minor girl were among the dead. At least 35 of the injured, including six policemen, were in a critical condition, other officials said. Lahore police chief Aslam Tareen said suicide bombers were responsible for two of the blasts. Witnesses too said they had seen the bodies and severed heads of the attackers.
The blasts triggered a stampede among members of the Shia procession that injured several persons. Angry members of the procession attacked policemen and the Lower Mall police station, saying law enforcement agencies failed to provide adequate protection to the gathering. A mob surrounded the Lower Mall police station and pelted stones at it. The crowd also set the police station and several vehicles and motorcycles on fire.
The police lobbed teargas and fired in the air but were unable to disperse the mob. The mob later entered the Anarkali and Krishna Nagar areas and set on fire vehicles and kiosks. The paramilitary Pakistan Rangers were called in to control the situation, provincial Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said. The government will rope in clerics of all religious sects to tackle the fallout of the blasts, he said. The procession was making its way from the old quarters of Lahore to Karbala Gamay Shah to mark the death anniversary of Imam Ali, the fourth Muslim Caliph and one of Shia Islam's most respected holy men, when blasts occurred.
Footage of the first explosion beamed by news channels showed a small blast amidst a crowd of people followed by a large cloud of smoke and dust. Hundreds of men and women ran from the site while some injured persons tried to crawl to safety. Several of the injured were carried away by passers-by. Minutes later, a suicide bomber aged about 18-years-old tried to force his way into the marchers and detonated his explosive vest. The second suicide bomber struck soon after at Bhatti Chowk. This was the latest in a series of attacks targeting religious minorities and shrines in Lahore. Ninety-five members of the minority Ahmedi sect were killed in suicide attacks on two mosques in May while 45 people died when two bombers targeted the Data Darbar shrine in July.
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani strongly condemned the blasts and Gilani said the "perpetrators of such acts of violence are neither believers of any religion nor do they respect any human values". While the country distressed by the sufferings of flood victims, the terrorists are promoting their own agenda,Gilani said. The attackers "want to create divisions" different sects but the government is determined to fight terrorism and eliminate extremists, he added.
In Karachi, seven people were injured when gunmen opened fire on a Shia procession taken out in a crowded market place. Police and the para-military rangers had surrounded the building from where some of the gunmen opened and a police official said three persons had been arrested. The firing started when the march was passing through Empress market in Sadar, one of the oldest markets of Karachi. City police chief Waseem Ahmed said initial investigations indicated that the firing occurred between two groups.