Quetta, March 2 (Agencies): At least 44 people were killed in sectarian violence in Pakistan on the holy day of Muharram, a week before the Indian cricket team arrives on a historic tour dogged by security concerns.
Suspected Sunni Muslim radicals attacked rival Shias with automatic rifles and grenades as the minority sect marked one of its holiest days.
Hospital sources said more than 150 people were wounded in the suicide attack in the southwestern city of Quetta, which coincided with bomb blasts that killed at least 143 people in Iraq’s holy Shia city of Karbala and capital Baghdad .
The attack on the Shia procession in the centre of Quetta was the worst outbreak of sectarian violence in Pakistan since a suicide attack on a Shia mosque in the same city killed more than 57 people in July.
“Terrorists started firing from a balcony on participants in the procession,” and armed men from the Shia Hazara community fired back, deputy inspector general Riaz Khan said. Another police officer said the attackers had also thrown hand grenades.
“When the terrorists saw themselves surrounded, at least two of them blew themselves up,” Khan said. “I saw their bodies dangling from the balcony over the electricity wires.”
Witnesses said the attackers’ guns were painted with the name of the outlawed Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which has carried out many sectarian attacks in the past.
“We suspect this is the work of the usual suspects like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, but it’s not clear what their objective was,” Shia leader Abdul Jalil Naqvi said.
Shias immediately went on the rampage in Quetta, burning more than 100 shops. Troops were sent in to restore order and curfew was imposed as a huge plume of smoke rose from a main market.
The Indian cricket team is scheduled to reach Pakistan on March 10. The tour was almost called off after the home ministry expressed concern over players’ security.