An apparent suicide bombing ripped through a Shiite Muslim procession today in north-western Pakistan, killing at least eight people, injuring 40 and sparking riots during the Muslim sect’s most important holiday.
Army troops took control of the area and a curfew was imposed as the Shiites vented their anger by burning shops and cars in Hangu, about 125 miles south-west of the capital, Islamabad, said district police chief Ayub Khan.
“We thought the bomb was detonated by remote control, but now it appears to be a suicide attack,” Khan said.
The explosion hit a procession of hundreds of people in a bazaar soon after it emerged from the main Shiite mosque, said a senior Interior Ministry official.
“The situation is very grave there. People are fighting. Police are trying to control them. Our priority is to get the injured to hospital, but angry and emotional processionists are attacking police vehicles and even ambulances,” the official said.
Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said: “Right now, we are hearing that eight to 10 people were killed, but these reports are still to be confirmed.”
Sunni and Shiite clerics in Hangu used mosque loudspeakers to urge the faithful to calm down and avoid further violence.
“We are getting good support from local religious leaders, and the situation is under control,” said Sherpao.
However, local officials said they were still hearing gunshots.
The attack targeted Shiites observing Ashoura, the most revered religious holiday in their faith. The event marks the seventh-century death of Imam Hussain, a grandson of the Prophet Mohammed.
Hussain’s death led to a rivalry between Shiites and Sunnis over who should succeed the prophet.
Security was tight for the holiday because it has been marred by violence in recent years. Sunni Muslims, the majority in Pakistan, have been blamed for attacking the Shiites during the event, which involves religious processions across the country.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said: “I condemn this attack in the strongest terms. This is a conspiracy to trigger clashes between Sunnis and Shiites. No Muslim can do this thing.
"Whoever has done this thing is a terrorist.”
Top officials of North West Frontier Province, including chief minister Akram Durrani and chiefs of police and paramilitary forces, held an emergency meeting in the north-western city of Peshawar on how to control the situation, a provincial official said.
Sectarian attacks have plagued the Islamic nation for years.
Last March, 46 died in a bombing against a Shiite shrine in south-western town of Fatehpur. In March 2004, Sunni militants launched a suicide attack on an Ashoura procession of Shiites in the regional capital of Quetta, killing 44 people.