October 24, 2015

ISLAMABAD (AP) — Pakistani Shiites rallied to demand greater government protection on Saturday after a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite religious procession, killing at least 18 people and wounding 40 others.

The bomber struck a public Ashoura rally Friday night in Jacobabad, a city in the southern province of Sindh, senior police officer Zafar Malik said. Local media reported a higher death toll than the government, saying as many as 24 people were killed.

Malik added that mourners were preparing for mass funerals Saturday and that the government had protectively deployed extra troops to handle any “untoward situation.” Shiite Muslims, a minority in Pakistan, hold public rallies to mark Ashoura, a 10-day ritual that commemorates the death of Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and an iconic Shiite martyr. Some mourners whip themselves with knives attached to chains and women and children beat their own chests as they march in the streets.

Sunni extremists who consider Shiites to be heretics. On Thursday, a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite mosque in southwest Pakistan, killing 10 people in Baluchistan province. The attacks have sparked Shiite anger at the government of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for failing to protect Shiite citizens. On Friday in Jacobabad after the bombing, angry Shiites ransacked local government offices.

Shiite community leader Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi called for mourners to participate peacefully in Saturday’s funeral processions, and demanded that the government provide greater protection and arrest those responsible for the bombings.

Pakistani authorities have put heightened security arrangements in place to protect Ashoura events, sealing off procession routes, assigning paramilitary troops to escort processions and suspending cell phone service in certain areas.