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Pakistani Sunni extremists who shot dead 44 Ismaili Muslims threaten Christians


13 May 2015

When Sunni extremists boarded a bus carrying Ismaili Muslims on their way to work in Karachi, in Pakistan, on 12 May, they gunned down 44 of the minority Muslim sect and injured a dozen more. Claiming responsibility for the country’s deadliest sectarian attack to have occurred since January, the spokesman of extremist group Jundullah, Ahmed Marwat, said: “These killed people were Ismaili and we consider them kafir (non-Muslim)… In the coming days we will attack Ismailis, Shias and Christians.”

Prince Karim Shah Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV, whose followers are Ismaili Muslims
Prince Karim Shah Karim al-Hussaini Aga Khan IV, whose followers are Ismaili Muslims

Saleem, one of the survivors, reports, “I saw five men who started targeting passengers individually… They want to target us because we are not Muslims according to most people in Pakistan”. Ismaili Muslims belong to a branch of Shia Islam where most follow the Aga Khan. The majority of Ismaili Muslims are found in India, Pakistan, parts of Iran, Syria and Africa.

After Shia Muslims split from Sunni Muslims, following Muhammad’s fourth successor, Ali, Ismaili Muslims splintered from majority Shia Islam after the death of the sixth imam, Ja’far ibn Muhammad (765). Those who accepted Ja’far’s eldest son (Ismail) as his final successor became known as Ismailis (or Seveners, because they believe in seven imams) whereas those who accepted his younger son (Musa al-Kazim) and his subsequent five successors are known as Ithna Ashariyah (or Twelvers, because they believe in twelve imams). An imam in Shia Islam is one of the descendants of Ali, fourth successor to Muhammad.

Jundullah, a splinter group of the Pakistan Taliban, claimed they were behind the attack and threatened future attacks against Ismaili and Shia Muslims as well as Christians, all of whom the Sunni extremists disregard as non-Muslim. The group was reported to have formally declared its allegiance to Islamic State in November 2014, which perhaps explains the fact that leaflets claiming that Islamic State militants were behind the attack, were also found at the scene of carnage.

Christians in Pakistan are in serious danger as a minority population, deprived of religious freedom and victim to mob attacks. In March this year, 19 Christians were killed in twin suicide bomb attacks in Lahore.