Karachi: At least 48 people, including women and children, were killed and 140 injured when two powerful blasts ripped through a Shia-dominated area of the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi, the latest in a string of attacks targeting the minority sect.
The first blast occurred outside an imambargah (Shia prayer hall) in Abbas Town at about 7 pm as people were leaving after prayers. The second explosion went off within 10 minutes, local residents said.
Rescue officials said 48 people were killed in the blasts which caused extensive damage to residential buildings and destroyed several shops in the area.
Police officials said the first blast was caused by explosives hidden in a car that was parked near the entrance of Abbas Town.
Sindh province Health Secretary Suresh Kumar put the toll at 45. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. Jinnah Hospital alone received 20 bodies and several seriously injured persons. Officials at Patel Hospital said they had received eight bodies and four more people succumbed to injuries in hospital.
The toll is expected to increase as some of those injured are critical. "The blasts have caused a crater four feet deep near the main entrance," Senior Superintendent of Police Mazhar Maswani said.
An emergency was declared at hospitals across Karachi and doctors performed emergency surgeries to save victims. Several young children were among the seriously injured, officials said. Police officials said the first blast was caused by explosives hidden in a car that was parked near the entrance of Abbas Town.
Residents of Karachi said the explosion was heard from 10 km away. The bomb contained an estimated 150 kg of explosives and was packed with ball bearings, officials said.
There were reports that the second blast was caused by the gas cylinder of a car, though this could not immediately be confirmed. The blasts caused a power outage and triggered panic in Abbas Town, which has a large Shia population. The first explosion destroyed the facade of two apartment blocks and damaged about 20 shops and several cars.
Fires erupted in the apartment blocks and footage on television showed huge flames leaping into the night sky. Local residents used car headlights to help rescuers who searched for survivors in the rubble of apartments and shops destroyed by the blasts.
Many people complained that rescue teams and the fire service took an inordinately long time in reaching the site of the blasts. Heavy machinery reached the spot almost two hours after the attack and residents rushed the injured to hospital in private vehicles and auto-rickshaws.
Local media reports said security forces and senior officials were engaged in providing security for the engagement ceremony of a senior aide of the Sindh Chief Minister and this hindered rescue operations.
Many top leaders of the Pakistan People s Party, including Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf, were in Karachi to attend the engagement. The banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has claimed a string of recent attacks on Shias in other parts of Pakistan, including the southwestern city of Quetta.
Abbas Town has been the target of terrorist attacks in the past too. On November 18, three persons were killed and more than 20 injured when a bomb went off outside an imambargah in the area.
In February, 91 people were killed in a bomb attack on a Shia area in the southwestern city of Quetta. President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Ashraf condemned the blasts.
Ashraf ordered an inquiry into the incident and said those "targeting innocent civilians are serving the interests of anti-state and anti-social elements". The premier cancelled his official engagements and began overseeing rescue and relief operations.
The Sindh government announced a day of mourning on Monday while Shia groups called for a shutdown. Officials said all educational institutions in Karachi would be closed on Monday while traders associations called for markets to remain shut to protest the attack.