Pakistani paramilitary troops stand guard outside a local hospital following an attack on a bus in Karachi, Pakistan. (AP Photo)
Forty-five members of the Ismaili Shia community were killed and 13 others injured when gunmen targeted their bus in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Wednesday, the latest in a string of attacks on the country’s minorities.
Around six to eight gunmen armed with 9mm pistols boarded the bus near Safoora Chowk area of Karachi and fired indiscriminately. The gunmen escaped after the attack on motorcycles.
There were conflicting reports about militant groups claiming responsibility for the incident. AFP reported a leaflet at the scene claimed the attack on behalf of the Islamic State group. The AP reported a splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban called Jundullah, or Army of God, had claimed responsibility.
Officials said 45 people were killed, including 16 women, and another 13 people were wounded.
Sixty people were in the bus, which was on its way to a place of worship for Ismaili Shias when the gunmen boarded it in a relatively deserted area on the outskirts of Karachi and sprayed the passengers with bullets.
The bus belonged to Al-Azhar Garden Colony, an Ismaili community housing project.
A senior police official told Dawn.com the attackers shot passengers in the head. Over 60 empty shells were found at the scene.
Several people succumbed to their injuries while being taken to hospital. The condition of several of the wounded was described as critical.
A security official showed AFP a copy of a torn and blood-stained pamphlet claiming responsibility on behalf of the Islamic State – the second time in as many months that such material has been discovered at the scene of an attack in Karachi.
However, the AP reported the attack was claimed by Jundullah. Ahmad Marwat, the purported spokesman of the Jundullah called the Associated Press from an undisclosed location and said “infidels were the target”.
Pakistan’s Shia minority has been repeatedly targeted by extremists over the past few years. Scores have died in these attacks.
The Taliban and other Sunni extremist groups, which view Shias as apostates, have long had a presence in Karachi.
At least 1,000 Shias have been killed in the past two years in Pakistan, with many attacks on the minority being claimed by the hardline Lashkar-e-Jhangvi. Wednesday’s attack was the second deadliest militant strike in Pakistan this year after 62 Shias were killed in a suicide bombing in late January.
Pakistan Army chief Gen Raheel Sharif cancelled a three-day visit to Sri Lanka after the attack. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the attack, calling it “an attempt to create chaos.”
“Terrorists have chosen a very peaceful and patriotic community to target in order to achieve their nefarious designs,” Sharif said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too condemned the attack. He posted on his Twitter account: “The attack in Karachi is deeply saddening & utterly condemnable. Our thoughts are with the families of the deceased.”
He tweeted: “We stand firmly with the people of Pakistan in this hour of grief. I wish all those injured a quick recovery.”