Army was called in to quell unrest in at least three cities, after at least 10 people were killed and nearly 100 wounded in violent attacks and rioting by rival religious groups.
Curfew was imposed and suspension of cellular service extended in Rawalpindi after 10 seminary students were killed and more than 70 others injured in clash with participants of a Muharram procession on Friday. Situation was highly tense on Saturday and Army troops were deployed in the city to avert further violence.
The Rawalpindi incident sparked fire in some other cities of the country as well. Army was also deployed on Saturday in Multan city and Bahawalnagar district after clashes broke out there. Over a dozen people were injured in clashes between two rival religious groups in Multan.
Army also took control of Chishtian tehsil of Bahawalnager district after hate speech by a cleric caused the rival religious group to vandalise an Imambargah. Shutter down strike was observed in Bahawalnagar city, Chishtian and Haroonabad tehsil, where around 10 persons, including 7 police cops and minor students, were injured during a demonstration.
The Friday’s violence in Rawalpindi came when a Muharram procession reached at the Darul Aloom Taleemul Quran seminary of a rival sect at Fawara Chowk of Raja Bazaar, at the time of Friday prayers. There were contradictory claims about the start of the violence as both the groups accused each other for sparking the fire. The seminary administration said the participants of procession provoked their members by chanting hated words and throwing stones at them. The rival group claimed the prayer leader in his speech was bashing their faith and the seminary students threw stones at them as they reached near the spot.
A source in the district administration control room told The Nation that the sermon infuriated the mourners, who started pelting the seminary with stones. In retaliation, the seminary students threw stones and bottles on the procession. In the meanwhile, a gun shot was fired by someone, which turned the area into a battlefield. The procession participants snatched rifles from the cops on duty and stormed the seminary and started firing, killing many students on the spot. At one stage, the violent mob dragged a cop on the road in an attempt to snatch his rifle.
The dead bodies were shifted to mortuary of the District Headquarters (DHQ) Hospital, Raja Bazaar, while the injured were taken to the DHQ, Holy Family Hospital (HFH) and Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) by Rescue 1122 and Edhi ambulances. Some sources claimed that the casualties were more than being told by the officials.
A heavy contingent of police deployed in the area failed to control the situation. Some unknown attackers also torched the seminary, the adjoining mosque and cloth shops at Madina Market, after which tempers further went up. Clouds of thick smoke were seen there. Rescue 1122 fire fighters and fire brigade reached the spot and started extinguishing fire. At one stage, the district government had to bring water from Wah Cantt to control the fire.
Some infuriated people also thrashed journalists and broke their cameras. Two media men were admitted to DHQ hospital where they are in critical condition. The top bosses of police and district government rushed to the scene and the mob tore uniforms of some of them. Then, army was called and curfew imposed.
A protest rally was also taken out by some seminaries from Kamran Market, Saddar, to Fawara Chowk. The army fired rubber bullets to disperse them. A furious clash also occurred between the rival religious groups at Sir Syed Chowk. Reportedly, 25 people were arrested for violation of curfew.
Seminary head Ashraf Ali, at a press conference, claimed a total of 14 students were killed while 106 others injured in the attack. He and other clerics belonging to Jamiat Ahl-e-Sunnat sought action against the attackers. JUI-F district Amir Abdul Ghafar Toheedi told this scribe that attackers slaughtered three children of the seminary.
Those killed in the seminary attack included Mehmood son of Atta Muhammad, Inayat Ullah son of Irfan, Awais son of Ziaul Hassan, Alam Zeb son of Baaz Ullah, Zaat and Muhammad Arif sons of Shah Muhammad, Fateh Zar Khan son of Zinda Khan, Saqib son of Wajid and Ilam Khan son of Aziz Khan. Names of five other deceased could not be ascertained.
In Multan, law enforcing agencies rounded up over five persons while police baton charged rioters and fired tear gas shells to disperse them. Mobs pelted stones at the vehicles of RPO and DCO. The police reportedly registered two separate cases against a Zakir, who allegedly delivered hate speech on Friday, and another person. A 10-member peace committee had been constituted to restore peace.
Sources said the situation started to get tense on Friday when a group of mourners approached Boahr Gate police and complained that a rival group had assembled outside Jamia Omar Farooq and was delivering hate speeches. Later, charged protesters from both the groups gathered at Ghanta Ghar Chowk, Bohar Gate, Chowk Shaheedan, Nawan Shehr Chowk, Haram Gate, Mumtazabad and in some other areas and blocked the roads. Police sources said that the protesters pelted stones on shops and at some Imambargahs. Police failed to control the situation and army was called out which brought the situation under control. DCO Zahid Saleem Gondal said the rioters would be dealt with iron hand.
In Chishtian tehsil of Bahawalnagar, Zakir Irshad Hussain Shamsi reportedly uttered derogatory remarks in his speech on Muharram 7. Provoked members of rival sects demanded city administration to expel him from the area. Latter it was agreed that the accused cleric will be gagged, but police later showed flexibility and let him speak to a procession. This breach of commitment resulted in violent reaction. The DPO and DCO rushed to the area and ordered expulsion of the controversial Zakir. An FIR was also lodged against some of his supporters. But this proved insufficient and thousands of protesters attacked an Imambargah and vandalised it.
Tension spilled to other parts of the district and complete shutter down strike was observed and demonstrations were held on Saturday in Bahawalnagar and Haroonabad as well. Army was called in these two cities and in Chishtian after police failed to control violent protests. Six cops were injured in Chishtian, and a police cop and three protesting students were hurt in Haroonabad.
APP adds: Rawalpindi district administration announced three hours relaxation in curfew from 2100 hours to 0000 hours on Saturday. Earlier, 30-minute relaxation in curfew from 1800 hours to 1830 hours was also announced.