SHIKARPUR: At least 22 people were killed and dozens injured in a suspected suicide bomb blast targeting Shias in Jacobabad yesterday evening. The dead included seven children while more than 50 were injured in the blast at a Muharram procession, which was going on a traditional route towards Pir Bukhari. The attack, at the Lashari Mohalla near Sher Shah Haveli, came as the country is on high alert for the mourning days of Ashura.

The attack came outside the residence of a local Shia leader as devotees were setting off towards a main procession in the city. "Many injured and bodies were brought to the Civil Hospital," senior police officer Zafar Iqbal said, who initially described it as a suicide attack but later said authorities were still investigating. The injured and the dead bodies were taken to hospital mostly on self help basis by the volunteers on motor rickshaws and private vehicles. They were later joined by ambulances, witnesses said.

"We were some three kilometres from the spot and heard the blast," Jan Odhano, a rights activist in Jacobabad told AFP news agency. "We rushed towards the spot. We saw people running here and there, some were crying and wailing, we could see blood on the clothes of some people." Due to lack of capacity at Civil Hospital, more than 20 serious patients were immediately referred to Chandka Medical College Hospital Larkana, according to hospital sources. Civil Hospital chief Dr Altaf Wagan confirmed that at least 15 bodies and more than 36 injured people had been brought in, and said that more wounded had been shifted to two other hospitals nearby.

Dahar confirmed that some of the injured were also sent to the hospital at the Shahbaz Airbase and the Jacobad Institute of Medical Sciences, with some airlifted to Larkana. Provincial transport minister Mumtaz Jakharani, who was at the Civil Hospital, said protesters had gathered at the hospital, with some damaging hospital equipment. "The doctors are scared of the agitating people," provincial health minister Jam Mehtab Dahar told AFP. "I call upon the protesters to calm down and help us treat the injured."

Witnesses said protesters were blocking roads at many spots in the city. Angered people also beat up Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Rana Nasrullah, blaming him for negligence in security. Infuriated people also burnt tyres at Deputy Commissioner (DC) Chowk (square) and protested against district administration. Some of them tried to enter DC Office but were prevented by police. A big contingent of police and Rangers personnel were called at the bombing site as well as at the areas of protest who brought the situation under control.

Among those killed in the blast were children named Saba (2), Aqsa (6), Souraj Khoso (9) and Amir Ali Soomro (8). The adult deceased included: Ali Muhammad Khoso, Zahid Hussain, Ali Raza, Qasim Ali Jatoi and his brother Habibul Ullah Jatoi, Nisar Ahmed, Mashooque Ahmed, Zahir Hussain, Lal Dino, Muhammad Ali and Javeed Hussain. Some of the dead could not be identified immediately. The county has deployed some 10,000 troops and 6,000 paramilitary members to prevent sectarian violence during Muharram, which began Thursday. The Islamic month is considered holy by both major Sunni and Shia sects of Islam but Shias hold processions and special gatherings to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (RA), a grandson of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

The Sunnis and Shias have been living here together for centuries peacefully, often participating in each other’s religious events. But a very slim minority among the Sunnis was radicalised by Salafism and Wahabism in Zia era. Militant groups – initially raised on Saudi funds – have been attacking Shias since then, declaring them infidels. No one immediately took responsibility for Friday's bombing, but a Sunni militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, had claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack and threatened more violence against Shias. A suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in Chalgari town of Balachistan, killing at least 11 Shias including six children.