A prominent leader of the banned sectarian outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP) survived an assassination attempt in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal neighbourhood of Karachi on Tuesday.
At least six people were killed in the attack targeting the motorcade of Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqui, the chief of the Karachi chapter of SSP which has morphed into Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) since it was outlawed by the government in 2002.
At least seven people were killed in other violence triggered by the assassination attempt on Maulana Farooqui in different neighbourhoods of the city.
Maulana Farooqui was driving to the central office of ASWJ at Jamia Masjid Siddiq-e-Akbar in the Nagan Chaurangi area when gunmen lurking at Gulshan-e-Iqbal roundabout ambushed his motorcade. The cleric was scheduled to attend an ASWJ workers’ convention at the office.
“At least four policemen, a guard and a driver were killed in the ambush,” Shahid Hayat, the deputy inspector general (DIG) of police, told The Express Tribune. Maulana Farooqui was hit in the leg by a bullet but his injuries were not life-threatening, he added.
A policeman in the escort vehicle and another guard of the cleric were also wounded in the attack. The casualties were driven to the Liaquat National Hospital.
Maulana Farooqui indirectly blamed the rival sect for the attack. “The same group is involved in today’s attack which has been targeting Deoband clerics and their supporters, including Maulana Yousuf Ludhyanvi,” he said while speaking from his hospital bed.
“The attack proves the state has no writ,” he said and called upon his supporters to remain calm. Karachi police chief Iqbal Mehmood confirmed the attack and fatalities and said the policemen who were killed had been escorting Maulana Farooqui.
“There were three vehicles in the motorcade – Maulana Farooqui’s double-cabin Toyota Hilux, police escort van and his guards’ four-wheeler. As soon as we reached the U-turn near Gulshan-e-Iqbal roundabout, gunmen opened fire on us from three sides,” the injured guard told The Express Tribune from his hospital bed.
Police found over 50 empties of 9mm pistol, sub-machinegun and .222 rifles. “The gunmen had meticulously planned the attack. “We couldn’t get help from closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras installed in the area as the attackers had carefully positioned themselves between two cameras,” DIG Hayat said. “Apparently, it is a sectarian attack, but our investigations are ongoing.”
According to witnesses, the gunmen were riding in a car and on two motorcycles. They were lurking on both sides of the road and some of them carried schoolbags, suggesting they had back-up weapons also.
Tension gripped different neighbourhoods of the city following the attack. ASWJ supporters blocked roads, burnt used tyres and stoned vehicles to vent their anger in Nagan Chowrangi, New Karachi, North Karachi, Nazimabad, Lasbella, Abul Hassan Ispahani Road, Sohrab Goth, Malir, National Highway, Patel Para, Mehmoodabad, Baloch Colony, Korangi and Gulberg areas.
In some areas ASWJ supporters fired gunshots into the air to whip up fear among residents and shopkeepers. Traders shuttered their shops and motorists disappeared from the roads. In relatively peaceful areas, traffic snarls were witnessed on the roads as motorists tried to reach home before nightfall.
In New Karachi and Malir, ASWJ supporters scuffled with law-enforcers after they were stopped from creating a law and order situation. Law enforcers used teargas shells and batons to disperse the angry protesters.
Countrywide sectarian violence between Sunni and Shia communities is estimated to have killed more than 4,000 people since the late 1990s.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2012.