KARACHI: In a dastardly act of terrorism, gunmen killed 45 members of the Ismalia community and injured another 13 in Karachi Wednesday morning after forcing their way onto a crowded bus carrying them.
According to witnesses, six men on three motorbikes initially opened fire on the bus with automatic weapons as it was travelling through the Safoora Chowk. After it had come to a stop they climbed aboard to continue the killing spree, with many of the unarmed civilians shot in the head at close range.
Hospital officials reported 45 people dead and another dozen injured in one of the worst sectarian slaughters in the city for years.
Saleem, a surviving passenger who was rushed to hospital with arm and leg wounds, said the gunmen began systematically executing people after climbing onto the bus.
“I saw five armed men who started targeting passengers individually,” he said.
“They want to target us because we are not Muslims according to most people in Pakistan,” he said.
The passengers were nearly all Ismailis, members of an international community of Muslims who follow the Aga Khan, the Europe-based spiritual leader and business tycoon.
“This attack represents a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those killed and wounded in the attack,” the Aga Khan said in a statement.
Regular murders of individual Shias – often members of the medical profession – are punctuated by occasional mass killings, such as the March 2013 bombing of a Shia neighbourhood, which gutted blocks of flats and left nearly 50 people dead.
Sindh Police Inspector General Ghulam Haider Jamali said that 60 people were on board the bus when six gunmen entered and executed 43 passengers.
He added that the armed men used 9mm pistols in the massacre. The attackers managed to flee after the attack.
Rana M Razzaq, a security coordinator at the Memon Medical Center, said that, “One young girl hid and survived. Three or four others who were brought to the hospital have survived…the rest are all dead.”
Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for Jundullah which is a splinter group of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), has claimed responsibility for the attack.
A survivor of the attack recorded her statement before the police and said that the attackers entered the bus from the rear portion a few minutes after its departure.
She added that the occupants of the bus thought that robbers had embarked on the vehicle.
The assailants subdued the driver and separated (two) children from the others, the victims said and added that, “They told the passengers to keep their head low. One of the attackers situated in the rear side of the bus then ordered his associates to ‘shoot every one’ after which they indiscriminately targeted all passengers of the bus.”
All attackers were speaking fluent Urdu according to the survivor.
Secretary Al Azhar Garden said that the bus leaves daily at 9am and has been operating for the past 10 years. Today it was attacked around 9:30 am, he said.
A rescue official quoted a victim as saying that the attackers were dressed in police uniforms.
Investigation Officer Tariq Jadoon said that some blue caps, which are used by security guards, have also been recovered from the crime scene along with 9mm casings.
A senior police official, requesting anonymity as he was not authorised to talk to the media, said that the attackers entered the bus and shot the passengers in the head.
“The bus had a capacity of 52 passengers but it was overloaded and dozens of people were boarding it. Most of them were from (the) Ismaili community,” he added.
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah strongly condemned the firing incident and condoled with the victims. He said it was a planned conspiracy to create a sense of insecurity and fear among the people. He said the government will trace out the culprits and bring them to justice.
The Chief Minister announced a compensation of five lakh rupees for each dead and two lakh each to seriously injured people. He said the injured would be provided best medical treatment at government cost. He said the government would see if it was a security lapse.
He ordered immediate suspension of the area’s Station House Officer (SHO) and Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP).
“The SHO, DSP have been suspended, we will find out whether the bus had security, whether they had asked for it or not,” the provincial chief minister said. “If there is a security lapse, it will be investigated.”
Taking notice of the firing incident, Sindh IG Ghulam Haider Jamali directed Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebo to immediately submit a preliminary report in this regard, according to a press release.
President Mamnoon Hussain and Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif have strongly condemned the firing incident in Karachi.
In their separate statements they expressed deep grief and sorrow over the loss of lives in this act of terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has sought complete report of the incident from the concerned authorities.
Similarly, Governor Punjab Rafiq Rajwana, Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif, the Interior Minister Chudhary Nisar Khan and Information Minister Pervaiz Rashid, Speaker and Deputy Speaker National Assembly have also strongly condemned the incident.
The Information Minister said that such incidents could not weaken our firm resolve to eliminate terrorism from the country.