MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) – A powerful roadside bomb exploded amid a procession of Shiite Muslims in central Pakistan on Thursday, killing at least three and wounding more than 50 people, local police said.
Videos circulating on social media showed police and ambulances rushing to the scene of the blast. Several wounded people were seen waiting for help along a road in the deeply conservative city of Bahawalnagar, in the eastern Punjab province, where the attack took place.
City police officer Mohammad Asad and Shiite leader Khawar Shafqat confirmed the attack. Witnesses said tensions are now high in the city, with Shiites protesting the attack and demanding retaliation.
Shafqat said the blast broke out as the procession passed through a congested neighborhood known as Colonia Muhajir. He condemned the attack and urged the government to further tighten security at such processions, which also take place in other parts of the country.
Communications in the area were difficult as authorities suspended mobile phone service across the country a day before the Shiite Ashoura festival.
The annual commemoration mourns the death in the 7th century of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson, Hussein, one of the most beloved saints in Shiite Islam.
For Shiites, the memory of Hussein is an emotional event that sees many believers mourn his death at the Battle of Karbala in present-day Iraq. During Ashura processions, which take place around the world, many participants beat their backs with chains, flagellating themselves in a symbolic expression of regret that they were unable to help Hussein before his martyrdom.
Shiites are a minority among the predominant Sunni Muslims. Pakistan, where extremist Sunni Muslims see them as apostates who deserve death.
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