A Pakistani Shi'ite Muslim, who was injured by a roadside
bomb during a Shi'ite procession, rests at a hospital in
Dera Ismail Khan in Pakistan's northwest. Photo by Reuters.
A roadside bomb has killed at least seven people near a
Shi'ite procession in Pakistan, with security forces on high
alert over fears of large-scale sectarian attacks on the
minority sect across the country.
Pakistan, a nuclear-armed U.S. ally, is suspending phone
coverage in many cities this weekend, an important one in the
Shi'ite Muslim calendar, after a series of bomb attacks on
Shi'ites triggered by mobile phones.
Hardline Sunnis have threatened more attacks as the Shi'ite
mourning month of Muharram comes to a climax. More than a
dozen people have already been killed this week observing
Some Shi'ites have been receiving text message death threats.
Saturday's attack occurred in the city of Dera Ismail Khan in
Pakistan's northwest, a stronghold of al-Qaeda-linked Sunni
militant groups who regard Shi'ites as non-Muslims and have
stepped up sectarian attacks in a bid to destabilize
Four children were among those killed by an 8kg-10 kg bomb
set off by a television remote control device because
cellphones were not operational, police said. Khalid Aziz
Baloch, a senior medical official, said 30 people were
The explosion was so powerful that it hurled a young boy onto
a rooftop from a street, where a man later carried away half
of his body, as a policeman with a bomb detector and
residents stood near blood stains.
Intelligence information indicates more attacks have been
planned for the coming days in the capital, Islamabad,
Karachi and Quetta. Mobile phone service will be suspended
for hours in the three cities and dozens of others over the
For the most part, Shi'ites and Sunnis live in harmony, but
extremist groups have increased tensions.
This week's violence against Shi'ites prompted Amnesty
International to criticise the Pakistani government.
"Amnesty International has recorded at least 39 attacks on
Shi'a Muslims since the start of 2012," it said in a
"But despite the frequency of such violence, the Pakistani
government has a poor track record of bringing the
perpetrators - and those who incite them - to justice."
In Pakistan's biggest city Karachi, more than 5000 police are
expected to patrol the streets during Muharram events over
the next two days. Tens of thousands are expected to take
part in processions in Islamabad.
Muharram marks the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala,
where the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and his family
members were killed.
Western intelligence agencies have mostly focused on
anti-American groups like al Qaeda and the Taliban in
Pakistan, paying far less attention to sectarian hardliners
who are becoming an increasing deadly and effective force.
Pakistani intelligence officials say extremist groups led by
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have intensified their bombings and
shootings of Shi'ites in the hope of triggering conflict that
would pave the way for a Sunni theocracy in U.S.-allied
The schism between Sunnis and Shi'ites developed after the
Prophet Muhammad died in 632 when his followers could not
agree on a successor.
Sunnis recognise the first four caliphs as his rightful
successors. The Shi'ites believe the prophet named his
son-in-law Ali. Emotions over the issue are highly potent in
modern times, pushing some countries, including Iraq five
years ago, to the brink of civil war. Pakistan is nowhere
near that stage.
But officials worry that LeJ and other groups have succeeded
in dramatically ratcheting up tensions and provoking revenge
attacks in their bid to topple the U.S.-backed government,
which faces a host of other challenges as well which fuel
Pakistan's economy is weak, chronic power cuts cripple vital
industries like textiles, and frustrations are growing over a
lack of basic services and crumbling infrastructure.