July 8, 2008 | FDD’s Long War Journal

String of bombings rock Karachi

One day after a suicide bomber killed 19 Pakistanis, including 15 policemen, in the capital of Islamabad, a string of bombings rocked the southern port city of Karachi. One civilian was killed and more than 50 wounded after a series of seven bombs were detonated throughout the city over the course of 90 minutes.

The bombs were said to be relatively small and were designed “to create panic in the city,” the provincial police chief in Sindh told AFP. “There is also a possibility that the people who planted the bombs wanted to fan ethnic tensions in the city,” Sindh Police Inspector General Sallahuddin Babar Khattak said.

No group has claimed responsibility for the bombings. But just this past weekend, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM, or United National Movement), the third largest political party in Pakistan that also runs Sindh province, began to warn about the “Talibanization” of Karachi and threatened to take action. The MQM put out warning messages to its party members and labor groups. Soon afterward, anti-Taliban graffiti began appearing on the street of Karachi. The graffiti was apparently produced by the Sipah-e-Mohammad, a Shia militia that has gone underground.

In April, reports indicated Sunni extremist groups banned by the Pakistani government after the Sept. 11 attacks are reestablishing branches inside Karachi. Kashmiri terror groups Jaish-e-Mohammad, Harkat-ul- Mujahideen, and Hizb-ul-Mujahideen have been building a base in the southern port city. Each of these groups serves as what an unnamed US intelligence official calls “muscle” for al Qaeda. The groups provide support and fighters to conduct attacks in Pakistan and beyond.

Harkat-ul-Mujahideen is a jihadist group that was formed in 1985 to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the war, it moved into Kashmir to fight the Indians. The group is said to have thousands of supporters and fighters.

Jaish-e-Mohammad was formed in 1994 after splintering from the Harkat-ul-Mujahideen. The group focuses its activities in Kashmir but it has been behind some of the most high-profile terror incidents, including the execution of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and the December 2001 attack on the Indian Parliament, an incident that nearly sparked a war between the two nations.

Hizb-ul-Mujahideen is considered the largest Kashmiri-based terror outfit. Sayeed Sallahuddin, the group's leader, reportedly has been in Karachi and Peshawar in the Northwest Frontier Province. Hizb-ul-Mujahideen “is reported to have a close association with the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence and the United Jihad Council, and other terrorist organizations operating out of Pakistan,” The Southeast Asia Terrorism Portal states. The United Jihad Council is a conglomeration of the Kashmiri terror groups led by Sallahuddin and supported by the Pakistani Inter Services Intelligence.

Karachi has been the scene of intense sectarian clashes over the past several decades. The MQM and Pashtuns who have settled from the Northwest Frontier Province have fought deadly turf wars in the city.

Karachi was the scene of deadly clashes in December 2007 after the suspended chief justice of the Pakistani Supreme Court arrived for a demonstration. At least 31 people were killed and hundreds wounded after supporters of the MQM rampaged in an effort to disrupt the justice's speech. “Many of the 15,000 police and security forces deployed in the city stood idly by as armed activists from [the MQM], blocked Mr. Chaudhry's exit from the airport and took control of the city's central district,” the Telegraph reported. MQM supporters on motorcycles fired into crowds of the justice's supporters.

The largest suicide attack in Pakistan occurred in Karachi in October 2007. Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto was targeted the day she returned from exile in a sophisticated, multipronged ambush that included suicide bombers, roadside bombs, and snipers. More than 136 were killed and 500-plus wounded. Bhutto survived the attack but was killed two months later in a complex attack while campaigning in Rawalpindi.