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Shias challenge Kayani over attacks; demand army in Quetta

12 January, 2013

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QUETTA: In a rare challenge, a Shia Muslim leader publicly criticised military chief General Ashfaq Kayani over security in the country on Friday after bombings targeting the minority sect killed 93 people.

"I ask the army chief: what have you done with these extra three years you got (in office)? What did you give us except more death?" Maulana Amin Shaheedi, who heads a national council of Shia organisations, told a news conference.

Most of Thursday's deaths were caused by twin attacks aimed at Shias in Quetta, near the Afghan border, where members of the minority group have long accused the state of turning a blind eye to Sunni death squads.

Shia leaders were so outraged at the latest bloodshed that they called for the military to take control of Quetta to shield them and said they would not allow the 93 victims of twin bomb attacks to be buried until their demands were met.

The burials had been scheduled to take place after Friday prayers but the bodies would remain unburied until Shias received promises of protection, they said.

"They will not be buried until the army comes into Quetta," Shaheedi said.

Akbar Durrani, the Balochistan home secretary, said scores of bodies had been brought out into the road by the bombsite as a protest.

About 2,000 ethnic Hazara Shias were sitting at the site of the attack with the shrouded bodies of those killed in the attacks, demanding that the army replaces the provincial government, he said.

Violence against Pakistani Shias is rising and some communities are living in a state of siege, a human rights group said on Friday.

"Last year was the bloodiest year for Shias in living memory," said Ali Dayan Hasan of Human Rights Watch. "More than 400 were killed and if yesterday's attack is any indication, it's just going to get worse." A suicide bomber first targeted a snooker club in Quetta. A car bomb blew up nearby 10 minutes later after police and rescuers had arrived.

In all, 93 people were killed in the twin blasts and 121 wounded. Nine police and 20 rescue workers were among the dead.

"It was like doomsday. Bodies were lying everywhere," said police officer Mir Zubair Mehmood.

The banned Sunni group, Lashkar-e-Jangvi (LeJ), claimed responsibility for the attack in what is a predominantly Shia neighbourhood where the residents are Hazaras, Shias who first migrated from Afghanistan in the 19th century.

While US intelligence agencies have focused on al Qaeda and the Taliban, Pakistani intelligence officials say LeJ is emerging as a graver threat to Pakistan.

The paramilitary Frontier Corps is largely responsible for security in Balochistan province but Shias allege it is unable or unwilling to protect them from the LeJ.

The latest attacks prompted an outpouring of grief, rage and fear among Shias, many of whom have concluded that the state has left them at the mercy of the LeJ and other extremist groups who believe they are non-Muslims.

"The LeJ operates under one front or the other, and its activists go around openly shouting 'infidel, infidel, Shia infidel' and 'death to Shias' in the streets of Quetta and outside our mosques," said Syed Dawwod Agha, a top official with the Balochistan Shia Conference.

End.

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