KARACHI: At least 43 people were killed and 13 others wounded on Wednesday when armed men opened fire inside a bus carrying members of the Ismaili community near Safoora Chowk in Karachi.
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.
Hospital sources have so far confirmed that the dead include 25 men and 16 women. Police officials said that there were no children among the casualties.
All victims were shot from a close-range.
Rana M Razzaq, a security coordinator at the Memon Medical Center, told Dawn that, "One young girl hid and survived. Three or four others who were brought to the hospital have survived...the rest are all dead."
Jundullah claims attack
Ahmed Marwat, a spokesman for Jundullah which is a splinter group of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), talking to Reuters claimed responsibility for the attack.
The Al Qaeda affiliated group that started off from South Waziristan has targetted Shia minorities and foreign tourists in the past as well. In November last year, the group had pledged support to Islamic State (IS).
In the past, the proscribed group has claimed several attacks including a blast near the Wagah border in November 2014 and the July 2013 attack on the compound of Pakistan's Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) in Sukkur. It has also claimed the several attacks on polio workers across the country.
Attackers entered bus and fired
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 told Dawn 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, told Dawn that the attackers entered the bus and shot the passengers in the head.
“The gunmen stopped the bus and first fired at it from outside,” a policeman told AFP. “Then they entered inside the bus and open fire indiscriminately. After that they checked to see if anyone was left uninjured."
“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.
Names of Safoora massacre victims
The Sindh government has released the list comprising names of those killed in the bus firing incident, within the jurisdiction of Sachal Police Station.
The unfortunate victims included Shireen, wife of Faqdar; Zahida, wife Syed; Arifa, daughter of Ameer Ali; Aneela, wife of Zulfiqar; Yasmim, wife of Nazar Ali; Shamim, wife of Shaukat; Saiedh, daughter of Peer Mohammad; Wali, wife of Qasim; Zubaida, wife of Akbar; Shamim, wife of Ameer Ali; Zubaida, wife of Nazar Ali; Ameena, wife of Nazar; Neelam, wife of Rizwan; Asmeera, wife of Saleem; Sonia, wife of Ranish; Areesha, wife of Zulfiqar and Laila, wife of Sultan.
All these ladies were stated to be aged between 20 to 50 years.
While the men who lost their lives in the unfortunate incident included Nazar Ali: Noor Mohammad Kadiwal; Sayed Nazar Manpura; Jawaid Dilawa Manpura; Liaquat Noorji Ladjipura; Nazar Miyaji Sunesra; Rajab Ali Kuwara; Rizwan Raheem Badarpura; Raheem Mianji Sherwa; NoorAli Bhai; Abdul Wale; Ramzan Wali; Sultan Qasim Varsilla and others.
Ismaili community attacked: police
Pakistan has seen a rising tide of sectarian violence in recent years, particularly against Shias — of which the Ismaili community is a sub-sect — who make up around 20 per cent of the country's predominantly Muslim population.
“The dead and injured have been shifted to the private Memon Medical Center nearby,” an official of the Ismaili National Council, a group which represents the community said.
The bus belongs to the Al-Azhar Garden Colony, which is an Ismaili community housing project in Karachi. It was on its regular route headed towards Federal B Area of Karachi.
CM Sindh, CCPO take notice
Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah strongly condemned the firing incident and condoled with the victims.
He ordered immediate suspension of the area’s Station House Officer (SHO) and District 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.”
He announced a compensation of Rs500,000 for the heirs of those killed in the massacre and a Rs200,000 compensation for those wounded in the attack.
Shah also announced that the government will bear all expenses incurred for the treatment of the victims.
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.
He also directed security forces to facilitate emergency rescue services in shifting of injured to hospitals for treatment. He ordered the early arrest of criminals involved.
COAS cancels Sri Lanka visit
Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif cancelled his visit to Sri Lanka and departed for Karachi following the attack on Ismaili community members in the city.
In a tweet posted on Twitter, Director General (DG) Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa said that Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif on Wednesday cancelled his pre-scheduled three-day visit to Sri Lanka in light of the attack in Karachi.
Condemnations pour in
Condemnations poured in soon after today's deadly attack on the bus. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif strongly condemned the incident. He sought a report into the incident and extended condolences over the loss of lives.
Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also strongly condemned the attack, according to a statement. Bilawal sympathised with the victims and urged for stern action against the terrorists.
Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan also strongly condemned the attack and expressed grief over the murder of citizens.
He added that this incident raises questions over the provincial government's performance pertaining to peace in the province. The government must provide complete medical facilities to the injured and take strict action against those responsible for this attack, he said.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned “in the strongest possible terms” Wednesday's terrorist attack on a bus in Karachi and called on Pakistan to bring to justice the perpetrators of this “despicable act”.
He urged the Government of Pakistan to take swift measures aimed at effective protection of minorities in the country, a statement by Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The secretary-general extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the government and people of Pakistan.
He wished a speedy recovery to those injured in the attack.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain expressed deep grief and sorrow over the attack. He said this attack is the worst form of terrorism and those behind the attack are savages.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also condemned the attack.
Others also took to Twitter to express their grief and condemn the brutal attack.
A community under threat
The Ismailis in Pakistan are a peaceful, progressive and largely apolitical community predominantly working in the health and education sectors.
Read: Pakistani Taliban threaten Kalash tribe, Ismailis in Chitral
In the past there has been anti-Ismaili violence in Chitral and Gilgit-Baltistan, mostly in the form of communal flare-ups.
In 2013, a bomb attack at Karachi's Aisha Manzil killed four and injured 42 others. The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan had claimed responsibility for the earlier attacks.
Today’s massacre was the worst anti-Shia attack since January 30, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in the southern Shikarpur district, killing 61.
Anti-Shia attacks have been increasing in recent years in Karachi and also in Quetta, the northwestern area of Parachinar and the far northeastern town of Gilgit.
Around 1,000 Shias have been killed in the past two years in Pakistan, with many of the attacks claimed by the hardline Sunni group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) who view them as heretics.
Ismailis are known for their progressive Islamic views. Their spiritual leader Prince Karim Aga Khan is a globally renowned philanthropist and business magnate.
— Mateen Haider contributed to the reporting of this story