| Protesters throw stones at the police during riots in Islamabad. (Reuters)
Islamabad, Oct. 7: Hundreds of frenzied mourners today rampaged through the streets and markets of Islamabad after funeral prayers in honour of Maulana Azam Tariq.
The head of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) was gunned down yesterday on the outskirts of the capital with his three bodyguards and the driver.
Tariq’s burial in his native town of Jhang, central Punjab, passed off peacefully with heavy police and paramilitary deployed at critical areas. In minor clashes with mourners, two policemen were injured after SSP activists burnt a few shops and a petrol station.
In Islamabad, paramiliatry troops were called out after the police and the administration failed to control the mayhem unleashed by Azam Tariq’s supporters.
Shops and offices at Melody market were torched and Islamabad’s oldest cinema hall, the Melody, was also gutted. The hall’s guard died in the blaze.
Tariq’s angry followers also set ablaze shops at the Aapara shopping centre and torched a Shia mosque before the police used tear gas and batons to chase away the protesters and restore normalcy.
“We will revenge your martyrdom, we will revenge your killing,” Maulana Tariq’s mourners chanted as they continued their march of destruction for hours, calling Shias “kafirs”.
“Shias were kafirs yesterday, they are kafirs today and inshallah they will remain kafirs for ever,” a speaker said to thunderous applause from 3,000 emotionally-charged followers.
Abdul Rasheed Ghazi, a follower of Maulana Tariq, later told a press conference that they were not involved in the destruction at Melody market and Aapara shopping centre. He added that the administration had been told all SSP activists would disperse after the funeral prayers.
However, shopkeepers blamed the police for loss of life and property. They said the police were silent spectators as the protesters pillaged shops and buildings. “We pay taxes to the government and expect them to provide us security. But the police provides protection only to the bureaucrats and other big-wigs,” said Mazhar Qudus, a shopkeeper, demanding the resignation of the government and inspector general of police, Islamabad. Tariq’s assassination comes after a string of of sectarian violence, peaking in July this year at a Shia mosque in Quetta where 50 people, including 11 children, were massacred.
On October 3, six Shias were gunned down while on their way to the mosque for Friday prayers. At least three gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire on the bus that was taking them to the mosque.
Relatives and officials had blamed the Karachi killings on the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi which is locked in feuds with its Shia counterpart Sipah-e-Mohammad. They had vowed revenge on the masterminds of the Karachi killings.
According to official estimates, more than 90 doctors, 34 lawyers and scholars, mostly Shia, have been killed in sectarian violence during the last decade.
Among the targets in the past five years were a former governor of the southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, a chief executive of a state-run petroleum corporation and several noted scholars.
Iranian counsulates in Lahore and Multan and dozens of Shia and Sunni mosques have also been among targets of sectarian violence.