Karachi shut schools and businesses to mourn the 42 people killed in a car bombing at Abbas Town on Sunday evening. The explosion targeted city’s Shiite minority and extended a spree of deadly attacks on the Islamic sect to the country’s biggest city.
Women and children were among the dead and more than 135 were wounded in the blast around 7:30 p.m. yesterday in a Shiite-dominated neighborhood of the port city. Nearby residential apartments and shops were reduced to rubble.
“All government schools in Karachi will remain closed today 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 will be open.
Yesterday’s attack follows bombings on Shiite communities in the southwestern city of Quetta that killed about 200 people. 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.
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.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the Karachi blast. Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, or the Army of Jhang, a Sunni militant group named after a city in Punjab province, is among those to have claimed previous assaults on Shiites. 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.
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 group were detained.
Pakistan is weeks away from a parliamentary election that must be held by early May.
The death toll from the Karachi blast may rise as people were feared trapped under the debris of buildings, senior city health official Suresh Kumar said by phone late yesterday. Some 170 apartments, 70 shops and many vehicles were either destroyed or damaged by the blast.
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.