By Zia Ur Rehman
October 5, 2012
KARACHI – Outlawed militant organisations are again active in Karachi, targeting residents based on their religion, police officials and analysts said.
Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ), Sunni Sipah Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), and Sunni and Shia groups are accused of participating in the recent wave of sectarian violence, and police are aggressively working to curtail the violence.
According to police, an August 18 bombing that killed two and injured 13 at a Shia Imamia Students Organisation (ISO) rally began the recent wave of sectarian violence.
After the August incident, several similar killings suggest that banned Deobandi (Sunni) and Shia militant groups have started killing members and supporters of rival sects, Raees Ahmed, a Karachi-based security analyst, said.
The Crime Investigation Unit (CID)’s Anti-Extremism Cell (AEC) October 1 arrested three suspected arms smugglers who supplied weapons to various Karachi groups, including banned outfits such as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), AEC head Chaudhry Aslam told Central Asia Online.
Police also arrested a suspected member of the Shia Sipah-e-Muhammad Pakistan (SMP) responsible for the September 24 attacks at the Disco Bakery in the Gulshen-e-Iqbal area, Express Tribune reported September 28, citing Deputy Inspector General of Police Akram Bharoka.
Violence targets families, individuals alike
The sectarian killings have taken a new turn in Karachi, as families now are being targeted.
The death toll from September – basically matching the count for the first eight months of the year – clearly indicates this new trend, analysts contend.
On September 5, unknown militants gunned down the chairman of the Islamic Research Centre Trust, Mukhtar Azmi, and his son Mohammad Baqir. Azmi’s grandson was injured in the attack.
On September 24, four brothers affiliated with ASWJ were fatally shot by motorcyclists near Disco Morr in the Gulshen-e-Iqbal area.
The next day, Mohammad Raza and his two sons were fatally shot and his third son was injured on their way home from their store in Jodia Bazaar. All the dead in those incidents were Shia.
“Muslims of different sects are being targeted in Karachi by the terrorists and it is a conspiracy to destabilise the country,” said Allama Abbass Komeli, a leader of Mutahida Bain-ul-Muslimeen Forum (MBMF), a religious body formed to spread harmony among different sects.
“Pakistanis are peace-loving people and condemn the suicide attacks and targeted killings that are taking place in the name of Islam,” Komeli told Central Asia Online.
The MBMF aimed to defuse sectarian strife and bring people belonging to different schools of thought closer as the latest surge in sectarian killings in the city and other parts of the country had created fear among the religious clerics, Komeli added.
The recent killings indicate that militants in various sects are engaged in “tit-for-tat killings,” intent on wiping out several generations of a family, the Daily Dawn editorialised September 30.
In addition to the families that were targeted, 24 other individuals were victims of sectarian killings in Karachi in September, according to Dawn.
Attack on Dawoodi Bohra community
Two bombings September 18 killed at least eight people, including a 10-year-old girl, and injured 24 others in the Dawoodi Bohra community in the Hyderi neighbourhood, according to police.
“The Dawoodi Bohra community, Shias by sect, have been known as the most peaceful in Karachi,” Aslam said.
“They number in the tens of thousands in the city and mainly do business,” he said, adding that police are investigating why they have been targeted.
It seems that banned sectarian outfits, especially the Sunni LeJ, are behind the attack on the Bohra community, Aslam told Central Asia Online.
Police link the recent spate of violence to Eid ul Adha.
“In the weeks leading to Eid, the militant groups like to flex their muscles … and to collect donations,” senior CID official Fayyaz Khan said.
Last year, in an attempt to reduce conflict between sectarian organisations, the government outlawed militant outfits from collecting the hides of sacrificial animals during Eid, he added.
Police have also, in the past five years, banned groups that they associate with the sectarian violence. One challenge with that is that the militants often just regroup and change the names of their organisations.
“Police and law enforcement agencies had successfully shattered those outfits’ network in Karachi in the past,” Aslam said, referring to action against the major militant groups. “But the recent political violence in the city has enabled them to re-surface.”
Sectarian violence in Karachi
Based on last year’s figures, Karachi was the Pakistani city worst hit by sectarianism, with 36 attacks that killed 58 and injured another 58.
That number represented about 32% of the total sectarian-related attacks in Pakistan, according to the 2011 Pakistan Security report, prepared by the Pak Institute for Peace Studies, an Islamabad-based think tank.
The report also stated that the overall incidence of sectarian violence in the country decreased significantly in 2011 but that casualties were concentrated in Karachi, Lahore and Quetta.
As many as 111 sectarian-related terrorist attacks, including five suicide attacks, were reported in Pakistan in 2011, killing 314 people and injuring 459, according to the report.
In the first eight months of this year, 34 sectarian killings occurred in Karachi, according to statistics compiled by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.