Islamabad: At least 28 people were killed and nearly 160 injured on Friday when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the funeral procession of a Shia cleric in the northwestern Pakistani city of Dera Ismail Khan, sparking angry protests which prompted authorities to impose curfew.
The suicide bomber struck the 1,500-strong funeral procession of cleric Sher Zaman, who was killed by unidentified gunmen on Thursday and the blast created mayhem.
The city, located close to the Taliban-infested Waziristan district, has been the scene of rising sectarian violence with at least six attacks reported in the past few months.
District police chief Mohammad Iqbal told reporters that 28 people were killed and 157 injured in the powerful blast. Though the procession had security cover, the bomber emerged from a crowded bus terminal on the route of the procession and blew himself up, he said.
No group claimed responsibility for the blast. Officials said the attack could be linked to sectarian rivalries.
The attack sparked angry protests by some of the 1,500 people who were in the procession. They went on the rampage, firing in the air and burning a bus and several other vehicles, forcing the authorities to clamp curfew on the town and call military forces for assistance.
Witnesses said the suicide bomber was aged between 15 and 17 years and had a beard and his body was later found torn apart.
Relations between Pakistan’s Sunni majority and Shia are under growing strain with a sharp rise in attacks on the minority community, ever since the Taliban and Al-Qaeda took a major toe hold in most of the restive NWFP areas bordering Afghanistan.
The protesters, who claimed authorities had not made adequate security arrangements, stoned government offices and security forces, torched and ransacked shops, burnt buses and set up road blocks in the city.
They also damaged a police check post, pelted stones at cars on the roads and snatched cameras from television crews that were covering the incident.
“The situation is under control and curfew will remain in force till tomorrow,” Iqbal said.
There were also reports that staff at a hospital, where the injured were taken, fled on seeing a group of angry protesters. Some of the seriously injured persons were taken to hospitals in Punjab province and Islamabad.
Friday’s attack was similar to another one in Dera Ismail Khan in November 2008, when 10 people were killed and over 30 injured when a suicide bomber struck the funeral of a Shia elder.