- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 1, 2004

KARACHI, Pakistan - Shi’ite Muslims, enraged by a mosque bombing that killed 20 worshippers, battled police and burned American fast-food restaurants yesterday as the government struggled to contain a third day of violence in Pakistan’s largest city.

Mass funerals for the victims of Monday’s attack sparked what appeared to be orchestrated violence as hundreds of young people rampaged near the wrecked Imam Bargah Ali Raza mosque, stoning police and setting fire to shops and buses.

Along a quarter-mile battle-scarred stretch of Karachi’s main road, men with guns took up four or five positions on rooftops and fired at police and paramilitary rangers.

Police Chief Asad Ashraf Malik said four policemen were wounded by gunfire, and that 150 had been arrested — in addition to more than 50 detained during street rioting Monday night. Chief Malik said that in all, about 35 vehicles and 12-to-15 shops and restaurants were burned, including a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a McDonald’s.

He threatened more force.

“We have decided not to be lenient. If anyone goes on the streets to cause trouble, they will be dealt with strictly,” he said.

Karachi, a volatile city of 14 million, is no stranger to armed violence motivated by crime, politics and religion. Sectarian strife between militant elements of majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shi’ites has only deepened since President Pervez Musharraf gave his support to the U.S.-led war on terrorism in late 2001.

But the city has endured three unusually turbulent weeks after a May 7 suicide attack at a Shi’ite mosque killed 22 persons. It was followed by clashes during elections that left at least 10 dead and a twin car bombing near the U.S. consul general’s residence last week that killed a policeman and injured 40 others.

The drive-by shooting Sunday of prominent Sunni cleric Nazamuddin Shamzai made matters worse, triggering unrest and raising fears of sectarian clashes — a fear magnified after Monday’s bombing at the Shi’ite mosque that killed 20 persons and injured 75. Police suspect it was a suicide attack.

No one has taken responsibility for any of the recent attacks.

Mr. Musharraf pledged action to stem the bloodshed, but no new measures were announced. Separately, he warned in a speech to representatives of Muslim countries that the world risked plunging into an “abyss of barbarism” unless it tackled the poverty and alienation that feeds Islamic extremism.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the president was expected to make “important decisions” in the coming days — perhaps replacing the leadership of the Karachi or provincial security establishment — but appeared to rule out the possibility of emergency rule by the army.

Among the estimated 10,000 mourners who gathered for the funerals of the victims of Monday’s bombing, many vented anger at Gen. Musharraf, chanting “Death to America” and slogans against his government as they beat their chests in grief.

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