Blast at Shi’ite mosque in southern Pakistan kills 49 – Reuters


* Attack is latest against minority Shi’ites

* Death toll may rise further

* Militant group claims responsibility

(Updates death toll, changes dateline, pvs ISLAMABAD)

By Mukhtar Ahmed

SHIKARPUR, Pakistan, Jan 30 (Reuters) – At least 49 people
were killed in a powerful explosion at a crowded Shi’ite mosque
in Pakistan during Friday prayers, the latest sectarian attack
to hit the South Asian nation.

Police said the blast was caused either by a suicide bomber
or an explosive device which went off when the mosque was at its
fullest on Friday afternoon in the centre of Shikarpur, a city
in Pakistan’s southern province of Sindh.

Radical Sunni Islamist groups often target mosques
frequented by minority Shi’ites, whom they see as infidels.

Earlier this month, six people were killed and 17 wounded by
a suicide bomber outside a Shi’ite mosque in the city of
Rawalpindi, also after Friday prayers.

“We are trying to ascertain the nature of the blast,” said
Shikarpur police chief Saqib Ismail Memon. “A bomb disposal
squad is examining the scene.”

Saeed Ahmed Mangnejo, head of the regional civil
administration, told Reuters that the death toll had reached 49.

In chaotic scenes that followed the blast, part of the
mosque collapsed after the explosion, burying some of the
wounded under rubble. Bystanders pulled people from the debris
and piled them into cars for the journey to hospital.

Locals said there were not enough ambulances and the army
later sent additional vehicles to transport people to hospitals.

The atmosphere was tense in Shikarpur after the explosion,
with shops boarded up and crowds of emotional residents massing
outside hospitals.

“The entire city is in lockdown and there is tension in the
air. There is a heavy police presence and the Rangers are
patrolling the city,” said Pariyal Marri, a local resident.

“THEY ARE OUR ENEMIES”

Jundullah, a splinter group of Pakistan’s Taliban which last
year pledged support for the Islamic State group based in Syria
and Iraq, claimed responsibility.

“Our target was the Shia mosque … They are our enemies,”
said Fahad Marwat, a Jundullah spokesman. He did not elaborate.

Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen, a Shi’ite organisation, has
called for a province-wide strike on Saturday in protest.

Sain Rakhio Merani, a regional police official, said the
blast was probably caused by a bomb, although Pakistani
television quoted some residents as saying they saw a man
wearing a suicide vest.

The attack came as Pakistan tries to adopt new measures to
tackle Islamist extremists following a massacre of 134 children
last month at an army-run school in the northwestern city of
Peshawar.

The government has pledged to crack down on all militant
groups, reintroduce the death penalty, set up military courts to
speed convictions and widen its military campaign in lawless
tribal areas.

Yet Pakistan’s religious minorities, among them Ahmadis,
Christians and Hindus, say the government is doing little to
alleviate their daily struggle against humiliation,
discrimination and violence.

Shi’ites make up about a fifth of Pakistan’s mainly Sunni
population of around 180 million. More than 800 Shi’ites have
been killed in attacks since the beginning of 2012, according to
Human Rights Watch.

(Additional reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Islamabad and Saud
Mehsud in Dera Ismail Khan; Writing by Maria Golovnina; Editing
by Mike Collett-White)

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