The interior minister might have had his share of criticism for the controversial counter-terrorism measures put in place by his ministry during the last three days of Muharram – but now he can rightly claim credit for ensuring a largely violence-free Ashura.
Nearly three dozen people were killed in a bloody prelude to Ashura, prompting the government to order a countrywide ban on pillion-riding and suspend cellular services in nearly 50 cities of the country.
Though these steps were by and large fruitful, still terrorists managed to set off a bomb in Dera Ismail Khan, the hotbed of sectarian violence in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, on Sunday – the 10th of Muharram.
The remote-controlled bomb was detonated in Commissionery Bazaar, near Mujahid Nagar, minutes before an Ashura procession was to pass the area, police said.
Five people were killed and 110, including three paramilitary soldiers, were wounded in the blast, police said, adding that the bomb was planted in a cycle shop which damaged 13 nearby shops.
“The device weighed around 10 kilograms,” Bomb Disposal Squad (BDS) official Inayatullah told The Express Tribune.
The casualties were ferried to the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) DI Khan where, according to medics, some of them were referred to hospitals in the nearby Bakkar and Multan districts of Punjab.
It was a second blast in DI Khan in as many days. On Saturday, 9th Muharram, 10 mourners were killed when terrorists targeted a procession with a remote controlled bomb on the outskirts of DI Khan. The provincial government has ordered an inquiry into the bomb attack.
100kg explosives seized
In Karachi, police claimed on Sunday that they foiled a major terrorist attack on the main Ashura procession and recovered a truckload of explosives after a firefight.
A team of the Crime Investigation Department (CID) raided a house in the Manghopir neighbourhood following tip-off about the presence of some suspected terrorists in the area, Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) Chaudhry Aslam Khan, who heads CID’s Anti-Extremist Cell, told The Express Tribune.
A firefight ensued in which, according to SSP Khan, a suspected suicide, bomber Gul Muhammad Mehsud, was killed and one of his accomplices, Ataullah alias Saddam, was arrested. Their remaining accomplices, however, managed to escape.
SSP Khan claimed that the CID team also seized a Toyotta Corolla car, rigged with over 100 kilograms of explosives, two suicide vests and three water coolers filled with 5 kilograms of explosives.
He added that the terrorists planned to target the main Ashura procession on MA Jinnah Road in Karachi.
35 terror suspects arrested in Punjab
In Lahore, the Punjab police chief said his force foiled large-scale attacks on Ashura processions and busted a ring of terrorists.
Speaking at a news conference, Muhammad Habibur Rehman, the inspector general of police (IGP), said police have detained 35 suspected terrorists – mostly belonging to the tribal regions, from different parts of the province.
Interestingly, the suspects include a constable of the Punjab Highway Patrol (PHP) Police who was identified by IGP Rehman as Tariq Mehmood. He was detained in Vehari district for sending a message for a terrorist attack at interior ministry’s building. A huge quantity of arms and ammunition, explosives and bomb-making material was also recovered from the suspects.
Blast at concrete-bricks depot
On Monday, a crude bomb went off in the Malir neighbourhood, killing an elderly man and injuring another three people.
The device – which weighed around half a kilogram – was planted in a concrete-brick depot in Mohabbat Nagar area, in the jurisdiction of Saudabad police, according to DSP Fakharul Islam.
The bomb went off around 10:15am, DPS Islam said, adding that Saleh Mohammed, a 65-year-old worker at the depot, was killed and another three people, including the depot owner Muhammad Anwar, were wounded in the explosion. The casualties were driven to the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre.
Police and Bomb Disposal Squad were called in to scan the depot for more explosives – but nothing was found.
Police said it was premature to say anything about the target of the blast. “Apparently, the terrorists wanted to target the mourners passing by the depot to join the main Ashura procession on Sunday,” SSP Farooq Awan, the head of Special Investigation Unit, told journalists.
Terrorists set off at least four bombs in the first 10 days of Muharram, killing at least four people. There were also three bomb hoaxes in the city on Monday.
President seeks report on DI Khan blasts
President Asif Zardari on Monday sought a report from the interior minister regarding the terrorist attacks in DI Khan and Rawalpindi and termed them an attempt to mar sectarian harmony during Ashura.
Spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said the president also commended the government’s efforts for maintaining peace during Ashura. “Howsoever unfortunate and condemnable such sporadic incidents of violence are, these cannot detract from the overall atmosphere of peace that was witnessed during Ashura,” the president said. (With additional reporting by Abdur Rauf in Peshawar, Asad Kharal in Lahore and APP in Islamabad)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 27th, 2012.