Spiral of Karachi killings widens Pakistan's sectarian divide

Karachi

When Aurangzeb Farooqi survived an attempt on his life that left six of his bodyguards dead and a six-inch bullet wound in his thigh, the Pakistani cleric lost little time in turning the narrow escape to his advantage.

Recovering in hospital after the ambush on his convoy in Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, the radical Sunni Muslim ideologue was composed enough to exhort his followers to close ranks against the city's Shi'ites.

"Enemies should listen to this: my task now is Sunni awakening," Farooqi said in remarks captured on video shortly after a dozen gunmen opened fire on his double-cabin pick-up truck on Dec. 25.

"I will make Sunnis so powerful against Shi'ites that no Sunni will even want to shake hands with a Shi'ite," he said, propped up in bed on emergency-room pillows. "They will die their own deaths, we won't have to kill them."

Such is the kind of speech that chills members of Pakistan's Shi'ite minority, braced for a new chapter of persecution following a series of bombings that have killed almost 200 people in the city of Quetta since the beginning of the year. While the Quetta carnage grabbed world attention, a Reuters inquiry into a lesser known spate of murders in Karachi, a much bigger conurbation, suggests the violence is taking on a volatile new dimension as a small number of Shi'ites fight back.

Pakistan's Western allies have traditionally been fixated on the challenge posed to the brittle, nuclear-armed state by Taliban militants battling the army in the bleakly spectacular highlands on the Afghan frontier.

But a cycle of tit-for-tat killings on the streets of Karachi points to a new type of threat: a campaign by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and allied Pakistani anti-Shi'ite groups to rip open sectarian fault-lines in the city of 18 million people.

Police suspect LeJ, which claimed responsibility for the Quetta blasts, and its sympathisers may also be the driving force behind the murder of more than 80 Shi'ites in Karachi in the past six months, including doctors, bankers and teachers. In turn, a number of hardline Sunni clerics who share Farooqi's suspicion of the Shi'ite sect have been killed in drive-by shootings or barely survived apparent revenge attacks. Dozens of Farooqi's followers have also been shot dead.

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