KARACHI: A suicide bomber on Monday targeted Pakistan's largest procession of Shiite Muslims on their holiest day, killing at least 33 people and wounding dozens more in defiance of a major security crackdown.
The blast sparked riots in Karachi, the financial capital, where angry mourners went on the rampage, throwing stones at ambulances, torching cars and shops and firing bullets into the air, sparking appeals for calm.
Pakistan had deployed tens of thousands of police and paramilitary forces, fearing militant attacks on Ashura processions.
“The blast was so huge that I felt my hearing had gone, but then I started hearing cries of injured people and saw pieces of human flesh and blood on the road,” said Abbas Ali, 35, one of the mourners thrown to the ground.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik blamed Tehreek-i-Taliban, against which the military has been waging a major operation in near the Afghan border, and Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, another of Pakistan's most feared Islamic networks.
“At least 30 people have been killed so far in the suicide attack and 63 others have been injured,” provincial health minister Saghir Ahmed told AFP.
“We have declared emergency at all hospitals in Karachi and doctors are making every effort to save the injured. The situation is very grim,” he added.
Faheem Siddiqui, a senior reporter of a private television channel, was among the injured. He was present at the procession with his six-year old son and 13-year-old niece who were killed in the blast. Siddiqui was rushed to JPMC and later shifted to Aga Khan University Hospital where he was operated.
Mohammad Ali Jinnah Road, where the attack happened, was ablaze with burning cars and motorcycles, and covered in debris from buildings attacked by rioters, said an AFP correspondent.
Firefighters battled helplessly to quench the flames engulfing buildings and shopkeepers stood crying outside their businesses going up in smoke.
“We are using our maximum resources available to put out the fire which is still raging in the markets,” said city mayor Mustafa Kamal.
Karachi has escaped most of the bomb attacks that have battered the northwest and other major cities.
Monday's attack was the deadliest in Karachi since a suicide bomber targeted the homecoming of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto — who was assassinated two months later — killing at least 139 people in October 2007.
It was the third attack on Ashura commemorations in Pakistan this year. A suicide attack at a Shia mosque in Pakistani-administered Kashmir on Sunday killed seven people. Explosives wounded 17 people in Karachi on the same day.
Police said two suspects were arrested at the bomb site, and said a sketch of the bomber would be issued based on the discovery of his severed head.
A spokesman for the paramilitary Rangers said one of their members died as he pinned down the suicide bomber, claiming that otherwise the blast would have inflicted far more casualties.
“Our soldier Abdul Razzaq spotted the suicide bomber and jumped on him and both fell to the road after which the bomber exploded himself,” spokesman Major Mohammad Aurangzeb told AFP.
After the attack, furious mourners set ablaze dozens of shops and vehicles, beating up police and paramilitary Ranger personnel, witnesses said.
Thick black smoke filled the sky and explosions of fuel tanks further panicked residents on Mohammad Ali Jinnah Road as ambulances raced to ferry casualties to hospital.
Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari condemned the latest blast and appealed to the masses to remain peaceful. –Agencies
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