Pakistani troops were deployed in the streets of this southern Pakistani city Thursday to try to curb rioting and vandalism that flared for a third straight day following a suicide bombing that killed 56 people at a Sunni Muslim prayer service.
The deployments, the first here since Shiite-Sunni unrest in the early 1990s, took place hours before mass funerals for three leaders of the moderate Sunni Tehrik group who were among those killed in Tuesday’s attack, one of Pakistan’s deadliest ever.
“We are deploying troops in the city at sensitive places and if needed the troops will help the civil administration in maintenance of peace and order,” said Col. Idrees Malik, a Pakistan army spokesman in Karachi.
Dozens of youths took to the streets again, burning at least two public buses and a car, and hurling stones at police forces in various parts of Karachi, said Kazim Ali, the chief of Karachi’s fire brigade. Youths also burned vehicles and smashed shop windows Wednesday.
Karachi police chief Niaz Siddiqui said security forces were on high alert for the evening funerals of the Tehrik leaders, which are expected to draw tens of thousands of mourners during a six-mile procession through Karachi’s southern suburbs.
Aziz tries to calm tensions
Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz flew to Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city of more than 15 million people, and met with Sunni leaders and security officials in a bid to calm seething tensions.
“All measures are being taken to maintain peace and order in the city and investigations are ongoing” to find those behind the attack, he said.
A police investigator said a Shiite Muslim man wounded in the bombing was moved from hospital care into police custody. The man was not being treated as a suspect, but police were questioning him about why he attended Tuesday’s Sunni gathering, said the investigator, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Police searched for a second man who accompanied the Shiite Muslim to the service.
Soldiers deployed around the Karachi Civic Center, where the local government is based, and the National Museum. Other soldiers deployed in Karachi’s southern suburbs, a stronghold of the Tehrik group and the site of much of this week’s violence.
Normally bustling streets in Karachi were largely empty Thursday, but public transport resumed.
Leaders from about a dozen Sunni groups late Wednesday called for a countrywide general strike Friday — the Islamic holy day — to protest the bombing and demand the capture of the culprits, said Mufti Muneebur Rahman, a senior Sunni cleric.
Officials have said that Tuesday’s bombing was aimed at wiping out the leadership of Tehrik, a rising Sunni Muslim political force.
Past attacks have been linked to simmering Shiite-Sunni Muslim tensions or rows between moderate and hard-line Sunni groups, which regard public ceremonies marking the prophet’s birth as offensive. Most attacks have been blamed on outlawed extremist groups, but claims of responsibility are rarely made.
Karachi has been the scene of several bombings and other attacks since Pakistan became a key U.S. ally after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.