Karachi (AsiaNews) The death toll from an apparent suicide bomb attack at a Shiite Muslim mosque climbed to 19 as Pakistan's largest city braced for more violence. Mass funerals for the victims of the attack are scheduled later on Tuesday. Fearing sectarian clashes between rival Shiite and Sunni Muslims, thousands of police and paramilitary rangers were on maximum alert, equipped with tear gas and live ammunition.
The explosion that ripped through the Imam Bargah Ali Raza mosque during evening prayers Monday also injured at least 42 people. The attack sparked rioting by hundreds of enraged Shiite youths who burned shops, cars, a bank and a government building and blocked highways and the main rail line. A shootout between rioters and police left three more people dead.
"Apparently, it was a suicide attack," Mansur Mughal, a senior police investigator, said. "We did not see any crater in the mosque, which shows that it was a suicide attack."
No one claimed responsibility for the bombing. But Karachi has been wracked by violence between the Sunni Muslim majority and Shiite minority, and the attack was seen as revenge for the assassination Sunday of a senior Sunni Muslim cleric, Nazamuddin Shamzai, a pro-Taliban Sunni cleric.
Attacks by radical groups on both sides of the sectarian divide are common in Pakistan, although most Sunnis, who make up 80 per cent of the 150 million population, and Shias, who account for about 17 per cent, live in peace together. However, analysts and AsiaNews sources in Pakistan stress the fact that this time they face a terrorist plan, which has nothing to do with the quite usual clashes between the Sunni and Shia communities.
Long a flashpoint for Pakistan's religious and political conflicts, Karachi has been reeling since May 7, when a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque killed 23 people. Then came the shooting of pro-Taliban cleric Shamzai on Sunday triggered a night of rioting by his furious supporters.
On Tuesday, Shiite Muslim clerics urged mourners to show restraint during mass funerals scheduled for the bombing victims. "Everybody who is a Muslim should understand that some elements want (to) create unrest," said Yousaf Hussain, a Shiite leader. "They are the enemy of Pakistan and Islam, and I ask you to understand this conspiracy and show patience". A Shia cleric described the attack as a "conspiracy to shatter Muslim unity".