- Associated Press - Thursday, October 7, 2010

KARACHI, Pakistan (AP) — Two suspected suicide bombers attacked the most beloved Sufi shrine in Pakistan’s largest city Thursday, killing at least eight people, wounding 65 others, and sending a stark reminder of the threat posed by Islamist militants to this U.S.-allied nation.

Angry mobs burned tires and torched buses in the aftermath of the bombings in Karachi.

The attack came amid tensions between Washington and Islamabad over NATO helicopter incursions that have led Pakistan to close a key border crossing used to ferry supplies to Western troops in Afghanistan. Despite U.S. apologies over the incursions, one of which left two Pakistani soldiers dead, Islamabad said Thursday it had yet to decide when to reopen the crossing.

The explosions at the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi happened on Thursday evening, the busiest time of the week for Sufi shrines across the country. Thousands typically visit the Ghazi shrine on Thursdays to pray, distribute food to the poor and toss rose petals on the grave of the saint.

Ghazi was an 8th century saint credited with bringing Islam to the region along the coast. Local legend has it that his shrine protects Karachi from cyclones and other sea-related disasters.

Pakistani Sufi sites have frequently been the target of Islamist militant groups, whose hardline interpretations of the religion leave no room for the more mystical Sufi practices that are common in this Sunni Muslim-majority nation of 175 million.

An Associated Press reporter saw blood, flesh and shoes splattered at the shrine compound in Karachi. A young boy with bloodstained clothes cried for help in a police vehicle, TV footage showed. Dozens of ambulances lined up outside to take victims to hospitals.

The first explosion took place as the suspected bomber was going through the metal detector before a long staircase leading to the main shrine area, said Babar Khattak, the top police official in Sindh province. The second blast took place about 10 seconds later, farther ahead of the metal detector, he said.

Mohibullah Khan, a 38-year-old manual laborer, was about to visit the shrine after evening prayers at a nearby mosque when the explosions occurred.

“I heard a huge bang and smoke billowed from there,” Mr. Khan said. “I ran back toward the mosque and seconds after heard another big explosion. Then I moved to help the wounded and put six or seven of the crying ones in ambulances and police vehicles.”

Gunshots could be heard throughout the chaotic city of 16 million-plus after the attack, while angry mobs torched at least two buses in the downtown area and burned tires on some roads. Many businesses closed early, while Sindh province Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza said all city shrines were being sealed off.

At least eight people died, including two children, officials said. Two severed heads found indicated that suicide attackers were involved.

“We have provided the best available security at this shrine,” Mr. Mirza said. “Humanly, it is not possible to stop suicide bombers intent on exploding themselves.”

Condemnations poured in from Pakistani leaders, including President Asif Ali Zardari, who was staying elsewhere in the city at the time.

“We remain committed to fighting these murderers and expelling them from our land,” Mr. Zardari aide Farahnaz Ispahani said in an e-mail.

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