KARACHI / HYDERABAD: At least two men were critically injured on Sunday when infuriated protesters numbering around 1,000 demonstrated against the anti-Islam movie ‘Innocence of Muslims’ and clashed with police outside the US Consulate in Karachi, sparking sporadic violence across the city.
A bullet hit Ali Raza Taqvi in the face and Komail Ali was shot in the back when a group of young men who were part of a rally taken out by Majlis Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) broke through a security cordon and reached the outer walls of the heavily fortified consulate.
It could not be immediately confirmed if the injured were shot at by the police. But eyewitnesses told The Express Tribune that Taqvi was arguing with a policeman on duty outside the consulate before he was hit.
When some protesters managed to get past the police cordon, security officials started firing shots in the air. “Burn the flag, burn it,” shouted a young demonstrator as he pointed to the US
flag visible from inside the consulate’s premises.
Hundreds of people, many belonging to the Imamia Students Organization (ISO) joined the rally. Some of them were armed.
An MWM spokesperson blamed the US consul general’s security for the incidents of violence. “A case should be registered against the consul general,” he said, demanding that the government expel American diplomats from the country.
He said the rally was peaceful and participants wanted to hand over a memorandum at the gate of the consulate, “but the police baton-charged us. They used teargas and fired shots.”
On the ground, however, the rally was not as peaceful as claimed. Protesters torched a police traffic post and hurled stones at the police. As police resorted to aerial firing, young men hit back with Molotov cocktails.
Richard Silver, a US consulate spokesperson, insisted that no shots were fired from within the premises. “It’s really unfortunate that the protest turned violent. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has made it clear that the US government has nothing to do with the video,” he said.
No one from the police including its Karachi chief Iqbal Mehmood and SSP West Amir Farooqi were available for comments. Television channels quoted Mehmood as saying that more than 40 policemen were injured in the clash.
It remains unclear why the rally was allowed to reach a point just meters away from the consulate gates and just two dozen policemen were stationed to stop a crowd of almost a thousand people.
By late Sunday night, a rumour spread that one of the injured had died, and soon after armed men took to the streets, setting vehicles on fire. Till the filing of this report, four police vans had been torched, and a bus and a petrol pump were partially burned.
In Hyderabad, the Christian community became the target of enraged mobs protesting against the film. As rallies turned violent, armed demonstrators fired at St Xavier’s church, resulting in Amir Maseeh, a 25-year-old who was dropping his mother to church, being injured. The church’s windowpanes also broke as a result of the firing.
In another rally-related incident, Lal Khan Solangi, 34 years old, was sitting in his shop when he was hit by a bullet in the head and declared dead on reaching the hospital. Earlier, leaders of the Christian Community and Hindu Panchayat along with Jamaat-i-Islami leaders addressed a rally outside the press club.
In Lahore, the Christian community staged a rally against the release of the film and demanded action against those responsible.
In Bahawalpur, former religious affair minister Hamid Saeed Kazmi said that the main object of the film was to label Muslims as terrorists. He appealed to the nation to control their emotions so that ‘our enemies would not succeed in their plans’.
In Quetta, the Balochistan chapter of Pakistan Workers Federation (PWF) staged a demonstration against the film as well as the target killings of labourers in the Dasht area of Mastung on Sunday.
In Rawalpindi, supporters of Sunni Tehreek and Anjuman Talaba Islam registered their protest outside the local press club. Protesters set effigies of US President Barack Obama, film producer Sam Bacile and American flags on fire.
Protests also continued in the rest of the Muslim world. Washington ordered all non-essential staff to leave Tunisia and Sudan after its embassies were stormed as al Qaeda called for more attacks on US targets.
WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY OUR CORRESPONDENTS IN BAHAWALPUR, RAWALPINDI, QUETTA AND LAHORE AND AFP
Published in The Express Tribune, September 17th, 2012.