GILGIT, April 4 – The authorities issued shoot-on-sight orders to the law enforcement agencies to maintain law and order situation after 17 people were killed and more than 50 wounded in sectarian violence in Gilgit-Baltistan on Tuesday.
The attacks led to an army deployment and imposition of curfew in the city, confining the inhabitants to their homes, as the situation turned violent.
The ISPR in a statement said the Army has been summoned to Gilgit to control the law and order situation. The casualties occurred in two separate incidents in the northern towns of Gilgit and Chilas.
In Gilgit, gunmen opened fire during a strike called by Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) over the arrest of one of their leaders, Attaullah Saqib, for his alleged involvement in a sectarian attack in February that left 18 dead.
The rioters ran amok when police refused to release Attaullah Saqib. Angry protesters opened fire and pelted the anti-riot police with stones, leaving several officers injured. Some unknown men hurled hand grenades at Ittehad Chowk that injured two policemen and a passerby. “At least seven people were killed and 50 others were wounded,” said an official.
Senior local police official Ali Sher told AFP the gunmen opened fire on a group of Sunnis appealing to people to close their shops in response to the strike call. It is pertinent to mention here that a complete shutterdown strike was observed against the arrest of Attaullah Saqib, who is said to be chief of Sipah-i-Sahaba Pakistan (SSP), Gilgit chapter.
A curfew was imposed in the city after the incident to bring the situation under control, the official said. Soldiers were given orders to shoot at anyone who defied the curfew order, the local media reported.
A total of 14 people have reportedly been arrested in the city following the clashes. In the February incident, gunmen disguised in military fatigues hauled 18 Shias off buses and shot them dead in cold blood in the northern district of Kohistan, which neighbours the Swat valley. A local intelligence official, who did not want to be identified, confirmed Tuesday’s death toll and also said a hand grenade had been used.
“But we still don’t know who the attackers were,” he said. He added that tensions had been mounting between the Shias and Sunnis in recent weeks.
In Bonar Das area of Chilas, a Sunni-dominated town about 100 kilometres south of Gilgit, a mob blocked the main Karakoram Highway and killed ten Shias, local police official Alam Jan said.
“The mob took out ten men from buses and shot them dead,” an official said.
Hundreds of people took to the streets in Chilas protesting the killings in Gilgit, he said, adding that the rioters set four buses on fire.
A local intelligence official confirmed the death toll.
Meanwhile, a police officer and his bodyguard were also injured while driving to a bus station in the city to provide security for the passengers from Rawalpindi.
The deteriorating situation in Chilas had prompted the local authorities to impose a curfew there.
Gilgit is the capital of Gilgit-Baltistan region and is popular with mountaineers as a gateway to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges.