Karachi: A suspected suicide bomber on a motorcycle killed 12 Shi’ite Muslims in a crowded bus in Pakistan’s commercial capital on Friday, hospital and police officials said.
Hours later, the hospital where some of the 40 wounded were being treated was hit by a huge explosion. A senior police official told Reuters that several hundred people were present at the scene of the second blast.
The renewed violence is bound to raise more questions about the effectiveness of security crackdowns on al Qaeda-backed Taliban insurgents at a time when Washington wants Pakistan to help stabilize neighbouring Afghanistan.
“It happened right in the middle of ambulances,” Reuters reporter Augustine Anthony said of the second blast.
The Pakistani Taliban have carried out waves of bombings at crowded markets and army and police facilities, killing hundreds of people since October in a bid to topple the pro-American government of unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.
Senior police officer Ghulam Nabi told Reuters of the first attack: “Initial reports suggest a bus carrying Shi’ites was hit by a motorbike laden with explosives.”
It had all the trademarks of a Taliban operation.
Karachi has been largely free of Islamist violence over the past couple of years, but a bomb at a minority Shi’ite Muslim procession in late December fuelled concern that the militants were expanding their fight to the city.
Sustained violence in Karachi, which has recently witnessed heightened political tension, could further dampen investor confidence in the sluggish economy.
“A motorcyclist exploded near a bus ahead of us. We took off and rescued wounded,” a witness to the first explosion said.
“It’s cruel. They are not Muslims. They are not human. The government is responsible because it has failed to provide us security and control terrorists.”
Dozens of enraged Shi’ites gathered at the scene of the blast. Some scuffled with police. Some wept.
On Wednesday, the al Qaeda-backed Taliban claimed responsibility for a high-profile bomb attack that killed three US special operations soldiers near a girls’ school in northwest Pakistan, and threatened more attacks on Americans.