KARACHI (Reuters) - Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi was tense on Saturday a day after two bombs killed 31 people, raising further questions about the effectiveness of security crackdowns on al Qaeda-linked militants.
Most shops in the sprawling city of 18 million people were closed and public transport was off the roads as several thousand mourners attended funerals of some of the victims of the two bombs, which wounded 170 people.
The first attack on Friday targeted Shi‘ites traveling in a bus to a religious procession, followed hours later by a blast at a hospital where the wounded were being treated.
Pakistani Taliban have carried out waves of bombings at crowded markets and army and police facilities since October, killing hundreds of people in a bid to topple the pro-American government of unpopular President Asif Ali Zardari.
Al Qaeda-linked Sunni Muslim militant groups have often carried out attacks on their rivals from Pakistan’s Shi‘ite Muslim minority.
“It looks like there’s no government in Pakistan,” said Shi‘ite Muslim Syed Shabbir Hussain, who lost a cousin in the first blast on Friday.
“They always say that there are militants here, and that they will attack. And then they attack, but the police and the government do nothing,” he said at his cousin’s funeral.
The government appealed for calm.
“We are at war with these terrorists who are against our country, who are against our religion,” said Zulfiqar Mirza, provincial government interior minister.
Mirza said some arrests had been made but he declined to give any details.
Carnage in the home of Pakistan’s stock exchange and main port could further discourage investors, who have watched the Taliban spread their violent campaign from strongholds in lawless areas near the Afghan border to major cities.
Later, a bomb exploded on a street in the southwestern city of Quetta, capital of Baluchistan province, wounding seven people, police said. Separatist militants are waging a low-level insurgency in the gas-rich province.
The latest attacks in Karachi come as the United States is pushing Pakistan to help stabilize neighboring Afghanistan.
Police had initially suspected the two attacks in Karachi were carried out by suicide bombers but later said the devices were planted. A third bomb, defused at the hospital, was similar in type, indicating just one group was involved.
Senior police investigator Raja Umer Khattab said the Jundullah (Army of God) militant group was behind the attacks.
“This is the same group that carried out the Ashura attack,” he said, referring to a bomb attack at a Shi‘ite procession in late December that killed 43 people.
Khattab said some arrests had been made after the December attack but police were hunting for more members.
“We have arrested four members of this group but there are still 12 to 14 militants of this group left, who are planning these attacks,” he said.
Another militant group with the same name is fighting the Iranian government.
The attacks once again fueled concerns that the militants were expanding their fight to the city, which already has its share of problems.
Dozens of rival political workers have been killed in violence in Karachi over recent weeks which has raised questions about the future of Zardari’s coalition.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony; Editing by Robert Birsel and Bill Tarrant