July 15, 2006

Angry Shi’ites rampage in Karachi

By Imtiaz Shah

KARACHI (Reuters) - Angry Shi'ite Muslims set an American
food outlet, a bank and scores of vehicles on fire in Karachi
on Saturday after funeral prayers were held for a leading
cleric killed in a suicide bombing a day earlier.

The violence occurred after more than 5,000 mourners
attended prayers for Allama Hassan Turabi, a leader of the
Islami Tehrik party and member of the main Islamist alliance,
the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA).

Turabi and a nephew died on Friday when a suicide bomber
blew himself up in front of his house.

As Turabi's coffin was taken for burial in an ambulance,
small mobs of young Shi'ites went on a rampage, setting a Pizza
Hut outlet, a bank and scores of cars and motorbikes ablaze.

"Fourteen people were trapped inside (Pizza Hut). But we
rescued them. Luckily, nobody was injured," Mushtaq Shah, a
deputy inspector general of police, told Reuters.

Karachi has borne the brunt of sectarian violence between
Pakistan's majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shi'ites that
has killed thousands of people since the 1980s.

Police stepped up security at mosques, Western consulates
and fast-food franchises in the city before the funeral.

A group of mourners scuffled with police as they tried to
attack a police van. Gunfire was also heard but Shah said there
were no reports of casualties from any part of the city.

The motive for the attack is still unknown and no group has
claimed responsibility for the killing, though police said it
bore the hallmarks of Sunni Muslim militants.

"We have not come to any conclusion yet but one key focus
of the investigation is LJ," said senior police investigator
Niaz Ahmad Khosso, referring to Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, an
anti-Shi'ite group whose members have ties with Osama bin
Laden's al Qaeda.

"This is because the explosives used are similar to those
used in at least three previous LJ attacks," he said.


Police have released a picture of the bomber, whose head
was blown off in the attack, and were trying to identify him.

Turabi had survived an assassination attempt in April when
his car was hit by a remote-controlled bomb.

"It is a barbaric act and it could be part of a campaign
against Shi'ite and religious people," Allama Sajid Ali Naqvi,
an Islami Tehrik leader, who led the prayers, told Reuters.

Naqvi said Pakistan and Shi'ites were still suffering a
backlash from a time when U.S. and Saudi money was pumped into
the country to arm and recruit mostly Sunni fighters in the war
against the Soviet occupation of neighboring Afghanistan.

"Their network has not yet been dismantled and we are
seeing the results," he said.

Analysts say sectarian attacks in the last few years were
also aimed at undermining President Pervez Musharraf, as
militants were enraged by his alliance with Washington after al
Qaeda's September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

(Additional reporting by Aamir Ashraf and Faisal Aziz)