KARACHI, Pakistan -- A bomb ripped through a Shi'ite Muslim mosque in Karachi during evening prayers yesterday, killing at least 16 people and wounding 38 others. A top Pakistani official said the blast could be revenge for the assassination of a senior Sunni cleric.
Hundreds of Shi'ite youths rioted after the explosion at the Imam Bargah Ali Raza mosque, which came a day after unidentified gunmen killed the Sunni cleric, Nazamuddin Shamzai.
The rioters burned shops and vehicles and blocked highways and the main rail line. Police Chief Kamal Shah said two men trying to steal an ambulance were shot and killed. Seven others were injured when police opened fire to disperse the crowd. The explosion was the latest in a series of terror attacks in Pakistan's largest city. It was not clear yet if it was the work of a suicide bomber.
Police fired tear gas trying to disperse the rioters, who torched two police vehicles and a gas station and ransacked two government offices, stealing furniture and burning it at a traffic intersection. Gunshots were heard, and police officer Gul Hameed said six people were wounded.
Interior Ministry spokesman Abdur Rauf Chaudhry said the bombing "could be a reaction to" Shamzai's slaying, which triggered riots Sunday across this eastern city and stoked fears of more sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites.
The blast cracked walls, destroyed an inner office, and badly damaged a room where people wash before praying at the mosque, which is located near the city center on Karachi's main highway.
It also shattered windows in a tall building opposite the mosque, leaving shards of glass on the asphalt.
Police Chief Asad Ashraf Malik said at least 16 people were killed and 38 injured. He said a body retrieved from the scene was being examined to determine whether it was that of a suicide bomber.
"We have not reached any conclusion yet," he said. An investigator at the scene also said there did not appear to be a crater, which suggested a suicide bombing.
Saqlain Raza, a worshiper who was parking his motorcycle outside when the blast occurred, estimated that 30 to 35 people were inside the mosque.
"One 3-year-old child was bleeding from the head and stomach," he said. "I carried the boy out, and a car took him to hospital." Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said President General Pervez Musharraf expressed grief over the killings and would take an "important step" in response. He did not elaborate.
Much of Karachi's violence is blamed on Islamic militants, angered by Musharraf's support for the US-led campaign against terrorism in Afghanistan, but clashes between rival Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims are also common.