Two attacks target Shia mourners

Extremism continues to simmer in northern districts of Sindh

Two attacks target Shia mourners
On October 23, a suicide attacker blew himself up in a Muharram procession in the Jacobabad district in Sindh, killing 24 people, mostly children. More than 40 people were injured in the explosion.

A day before that, there was a similar attack outside a Shia mosque in Balochistan’s Bolan district. Sarfraz Bugti, the province’s home minister, told reporters at least 10 people were killed and a dozen others were wounded in the attack. The death toll later rose to 11.

Despite a decline in violence this year after a consensus decision to fight terrorism, these attacks indicate the battle is far from over, analysts say.
"They are recruiting madrassa students and building a network to generate funds"

“The people of Jacobabad are in grief,” a local reporter told me. The Shia mourning procession was on its way back in the city’s Lashari Mohalla neighborhood when it was targeted. “There were pieces of human flesh lying everywhere at the site,” he said. A power breakdown that followed made it worse for the survivors. The nearby government hospital was understaffed that day, and some of the wounded died because they could not be given immediate medical care. A protest outside the premises flared up, and an angry mob ransacked the hospital.

According to newspaper reports, police found the severed head of the 20-year-old attacker. He had attached explosives attached to his torso and legs, and witnesses said he also had a pistol.

Jacobabad, which borders the Balochistan province, and the neighboring northern-Sindh district of Shikarpur have seen a number of sectarian attacks in recent years. On January 30, a suicide attack on a Shia mosque killed more than 60 people.

The responsibility for the October 23 attack was claimed by Jundullah, a splinter group of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) that declared allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) last year, according to some reports. But Sindh Home Minister Suhail Anwar Siyal said he had information that banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) had claimed responsibility for the attack.

The attack in Bolan was claimed by an LeJ spokesman who identified himself as Usman Saifullah Kurd – the notorious leader of the group’s Balochistan chapter who is believed to have been killed in a clash with security forces in Quetta in February. Talking to reporters on the phone, he threatened to carry out more attacks against Shia Muslims.

“Various offshoots of the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have found a new recruitment base in northern Sindh,” according to Shaikh Abdul Rasheed, a human rights activist. “They are recruiting madrassa students as their new fighters, and building a network to generate funds,” he said. “Growing extremism in the area is hurting Sindh’s pluralistic character.” The sole purpose of such attacks is to kill Shia Muslims, he said.

Malik Ishaq, the chief of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, was killed in a reported gunfight with the police in Muzaffargarh in July, along with his two sons and 11 associates. His close aide Haroon Rashid Bhatti – a proclaimed offender with a Rs 2.5 million head money – and four of his accomplices were brought to Pakistan from Dubai with the help of the Interpol on October 22, newspapers reported. But the killing of late Punjab home minister Shuja Khanzada in Attock and the continuing violence against Shias indicate that the group still has the capacity to orchestrate major attacks.

Although security was heightened for Muharram in the large cities in Sindh, smaller towns were not provided with adequate protection, says Veengas Yasmeen, a journalist based in Karachi. And although action was taken against militants and unregistered madrassas in Karachi and Hyderabad recently, the government’s ‘National Action Plan’ against terrorism and extremism was not implemented in upper Sindh, she said.

“Sindh was, is, and will always be a secular province,” Veengas said, “but if unregistered madrassas will continue to operate with impunity, such attacks will continue to take place.”