Karachi, March 3 (Reuters): A suspected suicide bomber attacked Shias as they were leaving a mosque in Pakistan’s commercial capital today, killing at least 45 people, in another signal Sunni militants are escalating sectarian attacks.
“It’s like doomsday to me. I was watching television when I heard an explosion and my flat was badly shaken,” said Mariam Bibi. “I saw people burning to death and crying with pain. I saw children lying in pools of their own blood and women running around shouting for their children and loved ones.”
Senior city official Hashim Raza said at least 45 people had been killed and 149 wounded in the blast in Pakistan’s biggest city.
Military offensives and US drone strikes against the Taliban in Pakistan have reduced the number of suicide attacks on the government and military targets over the past year.
But Sunni groups, most prominently the al Qaida-linked Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), have escalated attacks against Shias.
With a few hundred hard-core cadres, the LeJ aims to trigger sectarian violence that would pave the way for a Sunni theocracy in US-allied Pakistan, say Pakistan intelligence officials.
Its immediate goal, they say, is to stoke the intense Sunni-Shia violence that has pushed countries like Iraq close to civil war.
Bombings targeting Shias have killed nearly 200 people in Quetta alone since the start of the year, and residents of the city say they are under siege by LeJ death squads.
The bloodshed has prompted human rights group to accuse the Pakistani government, which receives billions of dollars in American aid, of turning a blind eye to the bombings.
While the military have launched major offensives against Taliban fighters they have not taken similar action against Sunni sectarian groups.
In 2012, sectarian attacks and clashes climbed by 47 per cent to 208, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, a prominent think tank.
Shias make up to 20 per cent of Pakistan’s 180 million people.
Shia frustrations are rising with each blast. Shias fired weapons in the air on Sunday night in Karachi, a bustling metropolis plagued by ethnic and political violence and crime.