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Death toll in Karachi bombing mounts to 57

Schools have been closed in Karachi to prevent protests by students over the suicide bombing, which has so far killed 57 people.

india Updated: Apr 12, 2006 13:45 IST
Associated Press
Associated Press

Officials closed schools in Karachi on Wednesday to prevent protests by students over a suicide bombing the day before at an outdoor Sunni Muslim prayer service that killed 57 people and injured scores of others, officials said.

Many businesses were closed and most public transport was halted in the city to protest Tuesday's attack, when blasts triggered by two suspected suicide bombers ripped through a gathering in a downtown park celebrating the birth of Islam's Prophet Mohammad.

The attack triggered rioting on Tuesday in the Pakistani port city, with mobs burning cars and buses and hurling stones at police.

Angry protests were also held on Tuesday night in several other cities in Sindh province, with participants burning tires and breaking shop windows, said provincial spokesman Salahuddin Haider.

Sindh officials originally said 41 people had died, including a single bomber, but on Wednesday said that two bodiless heads had been found, indicating there were two attackers, and that several wounded victims had died in hospitals overnight, bringing the toll to 57.

About 100 other people were injured, Haider said. "This is the consolidated death toll from various hospitals," he said.

Haider said the two bombers had not been identified, and it was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bombing, one of the deadliest ever in Pakistan, a key US ally in the war on terrorism.

Attacks in the past have been linked to simmering Shiite-Sunni Muslim tensions, and most have been blamed on outlawed extremist groups.

The attackers blew themselves up near leaders of the Sunni Tehrik religious group, which helped organise the prayer service, police chief Niaz Siddiqui said. They used about five kilograms (11 pounds) of explosives obtained locally, he said.

The religious leaders were sitting near a stage erected in front of thousands of Sunni Muslims marking Prophet Mohammad's birth. Several leaders were killed.

Mayhem erupted after the explosion. Scores of men wearing white, blood-splattered robes clambered onto the stage to assist victims, some apparently dead and others wounded and waving their arms for help.

Crowds of people ran frantically in different directions, many aiding and carrying the wounded to dozens of ambulances.

Some wept openly. A thick cloud of white smoke from the blast hung above the park.

Police officers fired into the air to disperse crowds that massed at the scene.

The provincial government closed schools and colleges in Karachi on Wednesday to stop protests by students.

Many businesses were shuttered and most public transport was halted in the city after the Sunni group Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, which helped organise the gathering, called for a general strike.

The provincial government announced a three-day mourning period. Funerals for some of the senior clerics who died in the bombing were scheduled for later on Wednesday.

President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack and ordered increased security at religious sites, adding that the culprits "will not go unpunished," according to a statement issued via Pakistan's state-run news agency.

Karachi has been the scene of several bombings and other attacks since Pakistan became a key US ally after the Sept 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.

In 1987, two car bombings in downtown Karachi, minutes apart from each other, killed 74 people.

On March 19, 2005, a bomb killed 43 people at a Shiite shrine in the southwestern Balochistan provincial town of Naseerabad.

First Published: Apr 12, 2006 11:19 IST