Sept. 2: A single act of terrorism has united India and Pakistan in grief with three pilgrims from Andhra Pradesh and 11 from Pakistan massacred in Iraq as they travelled to Karbala, one of Shia Muslims’ holiest sites.
The Iraqi interior ministry said the victims, all male, were ordered off their bus and killed “execution-style”, their hands bound before they were shot in the head.
“Some were tortured. One body had been beheaded,” said a hospital official in Karbala, 80 km from Baghdad, where the bodies were brought on Friday.
The news of the attack, in the Sunni insurgency heartland of Anbar on Thursday, filtered in late. Delhi learnt of the tragedy on Friday night when a student named Asgiri rang up its Baghdad charges d’affaires, Kedar Singh.
Shia pilgrims are frequently attacked by Sunnis on way to Karbala, where the Prophet’s grandsons were killed in battle.
“This has been happening for centuries. We have been cautioning people but we do not stop them,” said a Pakistan foreign ministry spokesperson.
Islamabad had withdrawn its diplomats from Baghdad after an attack on its envoy in 2005.
Delhi, which had advised against Iraq travel after three Indian truck drivers were kidnapped there in 2004, said three other groups of Indian Shias are in Iraq and safe.
The slain Indians — Jafar Mahsadi, 38, of West Godavari town in Eluru and Mohammad Baig, 42, and Mohammad Ahmed Ali, 45, of Hyderabad — were part of a group of 14 Indians and 26 Pakistani pilgrims, junior foreign minister E. Ahmed said.
Their minibus, which started from Syria, was stopped by gunmen on a desert highway near Rutba town west of Ramadi. The terrorists asked the men to get off and, after sending the women on their way to Karbala in the same bus, led them away.
Baig’s wife, who was on the bus, told brother-in-law Ali Abbas Baig over the phone that the militants robbed the women of their passports, visas and jewellery.
Noorjehan, sister of Ahmed Ali who ran an STD booth, said: “My in-laws, who were on the bus, said the militants killed my brother even as he pleaded that he be allowed to complete his pilgrimage and prayers.”
Ali’s teenage daughter Zaheera fainted on hearing the news and had to be taken to hospital.
Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy, who is in Delhi, has promised to talk to the Union home ministry to arrange for the safe return of the women after the funerals are conducted in Karbala.
Ali’s brother Mohammad Sikandar Ali said: “With so many people from Hyderabad and all around India going for the pilgrimage to Karbala, the state should provide adequate security.”
A group of 103 people from Hyderabad on Karbala pilgrimage are now in Iran and another of 40 at Najaf in Iraq. Among Karbala’s attractions are the shrine of Imam Hussein, one of the founders of the Shia sect, and the Shaaban ceremony scheduled on September 9.
“We see the hand of al Qaida in the killings as it wants to drive a wedge between Sunnis and Shias,” said Ali’s relative Muzaffar Ali.