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Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Pre-poll violence: Nine killed in Quetta, Karachi blasts

By Rabia Ali / Faraz Khan / Ali Ousat / Mohammad Zafar

Published: April 24, 2013



Security officials stand guard near the site of Karachi bomb attack. PHOTO: ONLINE
QUETTA / KARACHI.:

A string of bomb blasts, including a suicide attack, killed at least nine people and injured dozens more in the provincial capitals of Sindh and Balochistan on Tuesday, heightening fears of increased attacks ahead of next month’s general elections.

In Karachi, a crude bomb targeting a roadside camp office of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) killed at least three people and injured 30 others on Tuesday night. The attack, which happened in the Buffer Zone area, prompted the closure of all roadside camp offices of the party.

An Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was planted in flower pots under a huge banner of MQM chief Altaf Hussain erected on the median before the People’s Chowrangi near the city’s popular Café Pyala, officials said.

DSP Usman Agha of the Special Investigation Unit told The Express Tribune that unidentified men had ripped the panaflex banner. “Around 8:00 pm, MQM workers came to the site to take down the banner and replace it with a new one. There was a lot of commotion over who tore the banner, and residents of the area also gathered near the median to see what was going on. That is when the bomb went off,” he said.

Hassan Jafrey, a resident of the area who was injured in the blast, said there were almost 200 people around the median when the explosion occurred.

DSP Usman Agha said the perpetrators must have waited for a crowd to gather before triggering the bomb.

According to the Bomb Disposal Squad, the bomb weighed 1.5kg and was remotely triggered. The explosion left a crater that was three-feet wide and a foot deep.

The MQM decided to temporarily close down all its election campaign offices in Karachi following the blast. The party’s chief Altaf Hussain hit out at the government and said that no steps were being taken to improve the law and order situation in the city. He said it was the responsibility of the interim administration and the election commission to provide a safe environment.

Altaf claimed that about 25 MQM activists, including an election candidate, have been killed over the past few days.

Former MPA and a contestant of the MQM from the constituency, Sheikh Salahuddin, blamed the Taliban and political parties which, “the Taliban chose to be guarantors in the peace talks.” All political activities of the party will remain suspended today, and party workers would wear black bands.

Meanwhile, the private schools associations of Karachi unanimously announced late Tuesday night that it would keep all schools shut on Wednesday (today), owing to the uncertain security situation in the city.

The decision was announced in the wake of MQM’s appeal to observe a day of mourning across the province.

Meanwhile, the Board of Secondary Education Karachi has also postponed all Secondary School Certificate exams scheduled for the day, according to its examinations controller, Noman Ahsan.

Earlier in Quetta, a suicide bomber drove his explosive-laden car into a paramilitary checkpoint right near Alamdar Road – a predominantly Shia neighbourhood of Quetta.

“The bomber wanted to target the Hazara community on Alamdar Road,” Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Mir Zubair Mahmood told journalists. “However, he detonated the vehicle when the Frontier Corps troops stopped it at the checkpoint,” he added. “Two houses and eight shops located near the checkpoint were destroyed.”

Khaliq Hazara, the chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, the main Hazara political organisation, said the blast occurred shortly after he had finished addressing a small outdoor election meeting in a Hazara enclave in the east of the city.

“I was doing my campaigning in my own community,” Hazara told Reuters. “The government should give us security.”

Hazara, who is running for a National Assembly seat at the May 11 elections, said he suspected the bomber intended to kill him and his advisers. “We were the target,” he said.

Medics at the Combined Military Hospital and Civil Hospital confirmed that six people, among them two FC personnel, were killed and 47 others wounded – five of them critically. Bomb Disposal Squad officials said the vehicle was rigged with 90 to 100kg of explosives.

An eyewitness said the bomber had attempted to drive the vehicle into Alamdar Road from the Pir Mohamamd Road area. “The bomber detonated the explosives when FC personnel signaled him to stop at the checkpoint,” Mohamamd Idress told The Express Tribune.

Abu Bakr Siddique, a spokesperson for the banned sectarian extremist group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, claimed credit for the blast in a phone call to media offices in Quetta. The group had also claimed responsibility for two massive bomb attacks on the Shia Hazara community in January and February that had claimed more than 180 lives.

The suicide attack took place hardly an hour after three synchronised explosions rocked the city, causing fear and panic among residents. First, a homemade bomb went off in the Killi Shabo of Jinnah Town, causing no casualties. It was followed by a grenade attack in the Gawalmandi Chowk neighbourhood in which at least five people were wounded. Minutes later a roadside bomb exploded on Gurdat Singh Road, injuring two people.

The injured from both blasts were shifted to the Civil Hospital. Police and paramilitary FC reached the spots and began a manhunt for the perpetrators.

Separately, unknown men hurled a hand grenade into the house of the National Party candidate for PB-43, Haji Muhammad Islam, in Quetta. However, no casualties were reported.

Governor Nawab Zulfiqar Ali Magsi and caretaker Chief Minister Nawab Ghous Bakhsh Barozai condemned the Quetta blasts and offered condolences to the families of the victims. Barozai directed the administration to put in place stringent security measures for the May 12 elections.

The chief minister said that ‘anti-social elements’ wanted to sabotage the electoral process through such acts of terrorism. However, he added that his administration would frustrate such nefarious designs.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 24th, 2013.

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