3 killed, 59 injured in explosion during Muharram procession in Pakistan

Videos circulating on social media showed people running around in panic after the blast and ambulances rushing injured persons to the hospital.

Lahore: A powerful explosion ripped through a Muharram procession in central Pakistan’s Punjab province on Thursday, killing at least three people, including a seven-year-old girl, and wounding 59 others, the local government and police officials said.

The incident took place in Bahawalnagar, some 260 kilometres from Lahore when a Shia procession was heading to an Imambargah as part of the annual Ashura commemoration.

The Punjab government issued the list of the dead and injured. According to it, three mourners lost their lives.

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It said the condition of three of the injured persons was critical.

“The (Shia) procession (was) comprising 500 men, women and children, when an explosion took place. It seems to be a terrorist activity,” the report said, adding that most of the injured are young men.

Punjab Home Minister Raja Basharat confirmed to the media that at least two people were killed in the attack carried out by a man who threw a hand grenade at the mourners in the procession which was passing near a mosque in Bahawalnagar.

He said the attacker had been arrested and pictures shared on social media showed police dragging a bearded and shirtless man in handcuffs.

Basharat said besides the two people killed in the explosion, two of the injured were in critical condition and undergoing treatment at Bahawalpur Victoria Hospital, where all wounded had been shifted.

Videos circulating on social media showed people running around in panic after the blast and ambulances rushing injured persons to the hospital.

A senior police officer told PTI that apparently a man threw grenades at the procession despite high security.

“Two persons including a seven-year-old girl Maheen and 20-year-old Salman lost their lives while over 25 were injured,” he said.

He said the suspect threw grenades when the procession passed by the Jamaia Masjid Mohajir Colony at 10 am this morning.

“Police have arrested the suspect on the spot,” he said.

Another police source said the attack seemed to be sectarian in nature.

“The suspect who threw grenade(s) was hiding in a mosque and when the Ashura procession reached there he suddenly appeared on its rooftop and threw a grenade at it,” he said, adding that in the south of Punjab, anti-Shia group Lashkar-e-Jhanghvi (LeJ) has its roots and it leaves no chance to target the minority community.

A senior police official from Multan also said the police had arrested the man who threw the grenade on the Ashura procession.

“He is in police custody and investigations will be carried out to find out his links and contacts as well,” he said.

Rescuers have shifted the injured to district headquarters hospital Bahawalnagar where the condition of five of them is said to be critical.

Another senior officer of the Punjab government confirmed the death of two persons and scores of injures in the attack and said it was a sensitive matter that is why the police and the government were not issuing any statements.

“Ashura processions are underway in the country and we don’t want to create panic through this tragic news,” he said.

Opposition Senator Sehar Kamran condemned the attack on the Shia procession and termed it a “cracker attack” and prayed for the recovery of those who were injured.

Rights activist Ammar Ali Jan said in a tweet: “Shocking reports of explosion during Ashura procession in Bahawalnagar. All sections of society must strongly condemn sectarian violence. Sectarian bigots are continuation of Yazid’s legacy. Hussainiat always defeated the terror of cowards. It will win against it today as well.”

Bahawalnagar was trending on Twitter on Thursday with people posting videos of the incident, even as mobile services remained suspended in Pakistan’s major cities, including Karachi, Hyderabad, Quetta, and Sukkur to avoid any untoward incident during the Ashura processions.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar chaired a high-level meeting at the Safe City Authority and ordered the Counter Terrorism Department to submit a report on the Bahawalnagar blast after completing the combing operation and investigation.

As many as 218 processions were taken out in Karachi on Ashura and the Karachi police said a total of 12,455 security personnel had been deployed across the city. In Lahore, police said 46 processions are taken out from different areas of the city.

Shiite Muslims took out processions across Pakistan amid tight security arrangements on Thursday, commemorating the martyrdom of Imam Hussain on Muharram 10.

The annual commemoration mourns the death of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein, one of the most revered figures of Shiite Muslims.

Prime Minister Imran Khan and President Arif Alvi urged citizens in their separate messages to ensure compliance with coronavirus standard operating procedures.

“Imam Hussain became a symbol of force against falsehood and strength for all movements fighting against tyranny in the times to come,” Radio Pakistan quoted Khan as saying.

The president urged the nation to rise above hatred, malice, and sectarianism in line with the teachings of Imam Hussain, the state broadcaster reported.

Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar chaired a high-level meeting at the Safe City Authority and ordered the Counter Terrorism Department to submit a report on the Bahawalnagar blast after completing the combing operation and investigation.

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