18 killed in blast at Khanpur Shia procession

blast at Khanpur Shia processionMULTAN: A homemade bomb exploded on Sunday near a Shia procession marking the chehlum of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) in Khanpur, killing 18 people and wounding 30, police officials said.

The remote-controlled bomb was planted near an electric pole, said Sohail Zafar, Rahim Yar Khan district police officer. He said it was set off as the procession approached. “There was a loud explosion a few yards from the procession and we all scrambled to get away,” said Imran Iqbal, a mourner. “Debris was everywhere, and a cloud of dust engulfed us. Many people died on the spot.” Shias are often attacked by militant groups who consider them apostates. Rescue teams rushed to the scene and started moving the bodies and injured to hospitals while the security men cordoned off the area.

At least 30 injured were shifted to the Sheikh Zayed Hospital in Rahim Yar Khan, medical officials said. Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the provincial government was closely monitoring the situation. He said Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was in contact with authorities and had ordered a quick investigation into the incident. No group claimed immediate responsibility for the carnage. Mohammad Mushtaq, a senior government official, told a private TV channel that 16 people had been killed and 20 injured. “We are trying to calm the situation,” Mushtaq said, after angry and tearful marchers attacked a police station.

“We have talked with their leaders and the situation is now under control,” DPO Zafar said. Nabeela Ghazanfar, a spokesman for Punjab police, said 25 people had been injured in the bomb blast. There had been confusion at first about the cause of the explosion, with one senior police official, Abid Qadri, saying it was caused when a flag from the procession hit a power wire. Fingers were pointed at fanatics in Pakistan after an unprecedented bomb attack targeting Shias on December 6 in the neighbouring Afghanistan killed more than 80 people. – PT