Prominent Shiite cleric, nephew, guard killed by suicide bomber in Karachi


ISLAMABAD, Pakistan --A suicide bomber struck in the southern port city of Karachi yesterday, killing a prominent Shiite leader, his 10-year-old nephew and a security guard, officials and the local news media said.

The attack came about 4:30 p.m. near the house of the Shiite leader and scholar, Allama Hassan Turabi. He was seriously wounded and died in a hospital an hour later, said Allama Furqan Haider Abidi, a colleague of Turabi's. Two police guards were also wounded, officials said.

Turabi had led a protest rally against Israel and the United States after Friday prayers earlier in the day. The rally was organized by Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, a coalition of militant Islamic parties that won a record number of votes in the last parliamentary elections.

Turabi had strongly criticized Israel and expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah, according to local news reports.

Yesterday's attack was not the first on Turabi. He had survived an assassination attempt in April when a bomb that was hidden under a fruit cart exploded near his car outside his residence. Two bodyguards and a pedestrian were wounded in that attack.

Karachi, the country's largest city and commercial hub, has been troubled by sectarian violence in recent years. A powerful blast ripped through Sunni worshipers at Nishtar Park in Karachi in April, killing more than 45 people and wounding dozens.

Local television news channels showed grim images of the aftermath of yesterday's suicide attack. The severed head and body parts of the bomber lay in the street where Turabi lived. The suicide bomber appeared to have been in his 20s.

Religious leaders appealed for calm and restraint as protesters took to the streets after the news of the suicide attack. News reports said that protesters had set tires on fire and pelted vehicles and traffic signals with stones in various parts of the city. The police used gunfire to disperse protesters in downtown Karachi, news reports said.

Some Shiite and Sunni leaders contended that the attack was a conspiracy to create a wedge between Muslims, or that American agents were responsible. Allam Hasan Zafar Naqvi, a Shiite leader, said in an emotional interview with ARY One World, a local news channel: "Everyone knows who is responsible. There is no Shiite-Sunni strife. These are American agents."

Others blamed the government and security agencies for providing insufficient security to Turabi. "It is the failure of the government," said professor Ghafoor Ahmed, a leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, the country's most organized Islamic party.

Ahmed, who was with Turabi at the protest rally yesterday, pointed out that Turabi had on several occasions said that his life was in danger but had not specified who might be after him.

Government officials said that evidence was being collected by investigators and that an inquiry committee had been established.

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