The terrorist threat to my city Shikarpur is very real. Security agencies need to take heed before it's too late

Eight months ago I had written in my article – which I will hereby repeat – that the threat of terrorism still exists in the district of Shikarpur. The militants of LeJ and TTP seem to be active in the area and are planning further attacks.

Just twenty months after the first, Shikarpur has been made a victim of terrorism for the second time. On Eid Day, last week, one of the four terrorists, who infiltrated Khanpur, one of the towns of district Shikarpur, blew himself up, injuring 13 people including five policemen at the gate of Eid prayer ground, where hundreds of worshipers were present. Of the four attackers, two targeted the Eid prayer ground and two targeted the Imambargah. One was shot dead, the second fled and the third was arrested. The arrested terrorist, named Usman, told the police, “We hail from Swat and studied in a seminary in Karachi. We were brought here some days ago from Karachi. We stayed at a nearby place and after one hour’s bike-ride we reached here today.”

Bomb blasts in Shikarpur have historically been targeting the Shia, and this attack was no different as it targeted an Imambargah. All of the preceding blasts had targeted Shia leaders and community. As the terrorists wore suicide jackets containing heavy explosive materials and there were hundreds of worshippers inside the Imambargah at the time, therefore the success of the would-be bomber in detonating the suicide bomb in the Imambargah would have caused a great number of worshipers’ casualties, leaving horrible imprints of sectarianism, a serious threat not only to the very existence of the country but also to the Muslim world. But thank God, the volunteers and the police together avoided catastrophe, foiling more suicide blasts.

In reality, a great credit for foiling the terrorists’ attack goes to the volunteers who were at the gate of the Imambargah, who identified the terrorists since they looked like strangers. The volunteers searching the terrorists found out that one was wearing a suicide jacket and the other had a bag full of hand grenades.  The policemen, upon being informed by the volunteers, shot one terrorist dead and arrested the other. 

The Shia Ulemas, seeing the failure of the intelligence agencies and law enforcement agencies that led to the previous attack in a Shikarpur Imambargah twenty months ago, had decided to take the services of volunteers. Since then, they were assigned duties to provide security at Imambargahs, mosques and majlis, searching the attendees at the gates and surveying people who lived in this part of the district.  

One of the main objectives of suicide attacks on the Shia community is to damage the centuries-old sectarian harmony established in interior Sindh and to cause chaos and disorder in the society by exacerbating sectarianism. The people of Sindh, taught by Sufis and Saints, who are peaceful and humanitarian by nature, believe in harmony and coexistence with people of all religions and sects. People of all sects have established friendly relations with one another and many of them have intermarried. They have never felt any kind of antagonism for each another. However, the sudden outbreak of religious extremism among a few people in the society is the result of brainwashing conducted by terrorist organizations.

It is pertinent to mention here that this was not the first terrorist attack on Shikarpur – the city has been subjected to terrorism many a times.  On January 30, 2015, a suicide attack struck the central Imambargah of Shikarpur during Friday prayers. It was the second deadliest attack in the history of interior Sindh after the one that took place in Khairpur on June 6, 1963, targeting an Ashura procession, killing 118 Shia mourners. Jundullah, a splinter group of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has pledged allegiance to the militant Islamic State group, had claimed responsibility for the 2015 blast, in which 60 people were killed and another 60 were injured. “Our target was the Shia mosque,” said its spokesman. “They are our enemies”.

The leader of a Shia sect, Dr. Muhammad Ibrahim Jatoi, was targeted by suicide attacks twice. On Ashura, or the 10th of Muharram, 2010, a suicide bomber had tried to force his way inside his house where around 1,500 people had gathered for majlis. Jatoi’s private security guards shot the intruder dead and fortunately there weren’t any casualties. During the 2013 election campaign, he was attacked by a suicide bomber again, but thankfully he remained safe.

In February, 2013, Dargah Ghulam Shah Ghazi, situated at the village of Mari, was targeted by a suicide bomber, in which Gaddi Nasheen the Sufi Saint Syed Hajan Shah and two of his children were killed and three women seriously injured. Moreover, six years ago in this district, a huge number of NATO tankers were set on fire in two separate incidents.

One year after occurrence of Shikarpur Imambargah blast, four terrorists affiliated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Tehreek Taliban Pakistan (TTP), reportedly involved in the suicide attack were arrested. The police, conducting search operations against the militants, had found a huge quantity of explosive material. In the same way, some months ago, some more terrorists were arrested with explosive material in the district. It is worth noting that all terrorists involved in the bombing had been arrested from within the district and not a single one of them was from outside. And the statement of the attacker arrested for the Eid Day attack, in which he said that they infiltrated Khanpur after one hour’s bike-ride, shows that the terrorists were provided with refuge in the contiguous area. Hence, the existence of a gargantuan network of local terrorists, fully trained by terrorist organizations, cannot be denied.  

Eight months ago I had written in my article – which I will hereby repeat – that the threat of terrorism still exists in the district of Shikarpur. The militants of LeJ and TTP seem to be active in the area and are planning further attacks. The Shia leaders have repeatedly been calling for a military operation like Zarb-e-Azb against terrorists outside of North Waziristan, as well. In this state of affairs, any security negligence or lapse can cause immense loss of lives. The rational decision that needs to be taken by the law enforcement agencies is to beef up intelligence and security to counter any potential terrorist threat. 

Shaikh Abdul Rasheed is a social activist and researcher. Follow him on Twitter

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