Wed, Jun 02, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Karachi violence widens

`THIS IS A WAR' The president is expected to reveal plans to halt sectarian strife in Pakistan after five attacks in a month claimed dozens of lives

KARACHI , AFP

A police officer stands before a bus set on fire Monday in the aftermath of the suicide bombing of a Shiite Muslim mosque in Karachi.

PHOTO: AP

President Pervez Musharraf was planning urgent measures yesterday to combat violence in Pakistan's largest city after a fifth bloody attack in a month left 19 people dead.

"He will make some important decision that can protect and save the lives of people and address the law-and-order situation," Information Minister Sheikh Rashid said, adding that he expected such an announcement in the next few days.

A blast by a suspected suicide bomber killed 19 worshippers during evening prayers at a Shiite Muslim mosque Monday. Over 15,000 police and paramilitary troops were already guarding Shiite centers and other sensitive areas following the murder of a senior Sunni cleric a day earlier.

"We suspect it's a suicide attack," senior police investigator Manzoor Mughal said.

Sunni cleric Mufti Nizamuddin Shamzai, 70, was gunned down Sunday in the same area as the Ali Raza mosque that was attacked on Monday. Shamzai's assassination triggered violent riots Sunday, and authorities had feared a revenge attack against Shiites.

The latest spiral of Shiite-Sunni violence, which has killed over 4,000 people since the 1980s, erupted May 7 in Karachi, when the Shiite Haideri mosque was attacked by a suicide bomber. Twenty-three worshippers died.

Monday's mosque attack was the fifth within a month. As well as Shamzai's murder and the earlier Shiite mosque attack, a double car-bomb attack near the US consul-general's residence killed a police officer on May 26, while on May 25 two parcel bombs killed two people at Karachi's port.

The Sindh province police chief, Kamal Shah, described the surge in violence as a war between militants and police.

"This is a war between the law enforcement agencies and terrorists," Shah said.

"Police are after them and they are after the police. Many of the terrorists have been arrested but it's an ongoing war against terror."

More riots erupted through the night after Monday's attacks.

Three people were killed in shootouts between police and protesters, and rioters torched around 20 cars, Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil said.

Rashid denied that authorities had lost control of Karachi's 14 million people. The city has long been a haunt of drug traffickers, gun-runners, terrorists and warring gangs thrashing out ethnic, sectarian and political differences.

"We haven't lost control, but there is a lack of information and handling by the administration in Karachi," Rashid said.

Witnesses said Monday's explosion was so powerful that it caused cracks in the mosque's concrete dome.

Shiite leader Hasan Turabi said Shamzai's murder and the Shiite mosque attack were "an attempt to divide the two Muslim sects."

"There is no Shia-Sunni conflict and we will never allow the two sects to fight," he declared.

Musharraf was "gravely concerned" over deteriorating security in Karachi, Rashid said. No one has claimed responsibility for the bombing.

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