Pakistanis check the site of a bomb blast in Karachi on Sunday. Officials… (Fareed Khan / AP )
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — At least 30 people were killed and dozens injured Sunday when either one or two bombs exploded in a Shiite-majority neighborhood of Karachi, local officials said.
Initial reports said that two blasts had detonated near a Shiite Muslim prayer hall in the populous port city. The first occurred about 7 p.m. as people left religious celebrations, television networks reported, while the second, less-powerful explosion took place in the same area about 10 minutes later.
Authorities later referred to a single blast, which they said was caused by a car bomb.
[Updated 1:15 p.m. March 3: The Associated Press, citing a top government official, Taha Farooqi, said at least 37 people were confirmed dead and 141 wounded.]
No group claimed immediate responsibility. The banned Lashkar-e-Jhangvi insurgent group has claimed credit in the past for a string of attacks on Shiites around Pakistan.
The area where Sunday’s attack took place, Karachi’s densely populated Abbas Town, has a sizable Shiite population and early indications were that the strike was designed to fan sectarian violence between minority Shiite and majority Sunni Muslims.
Provincial Police Chief Fayaz Leghari said at least three police officials were among the dead.
The explosion caused an electricity blackout and sparked panic in the area, blowing out windows in nearby structures and damaging numerous stores, local media reported. Television footage showed black smoke rising into the air and fire bellowing from badly hit buildings as workers struggled to rescue survivors from the debris.
"There were two blasts and firing also,” a witness told local TV. “First I collected the dead body of a 4-year-old child and then we continued collecting bodies. The federal and provincial governments have totally failed to provide security to the citizens.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf condemned the attack, ordered an investigation and called on local officials to coordinate relief efforts. Those who target innocent civilians are “serving the interests of anti-state and anti-social elements,” his office added in the statement.
The government of Sindh province, where Karachi is located, declared that Monday would be a day of mourning, with all government and private educational institutions in Karachi — the nation's largest city — closed. Transport unions also said they would not work Monday.
Extremists in Pakistan have stepped up attacks on Shiite communities in recent months in a bid to seed distrust and undermine government control. Last month, over 90 people died when three blasts hit a busy Shiite community in the southwestern city of Quetta. Some families of those killed initially refused to bury their dead, angered over what they said was the government’s failure to protect their community.
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Kahn reported from Islamabad and Magnier from New Delhi.