Some Pakistanis see U.S. as symbol of woes
A bomb kills worshippers at a Shiite Muslim shrine, and some mourners shout "Down with America!" Days later, a suicide bomber strikes a Shiite mosque and an angry crowd torches a nearby KFC restaurant.
Sectarian violence is nothing new in Pakistan, where a small minority of Sunni and Shiite militants keep up a torrid pace of atrocities each year. Now, however, anger over the bloodshed is being vented at a seemingly unrelated target — the United States.
Hatred of America is running high in the wake of allegations in Newsweek magazine — since retracted — that U.S. interrogators desecrated Islam's holy book, the Quran, at Guantanamo Bay prison, said Allama Hassan Turabi, a senior Shiite leader in the southern city of Karachi.
Anger over America's treatment of Muslims bubbled over following an attack on a mosque in Karachi on Monday, when three assailants clashed with police before setting off a bomb that killed two attackers, two policemen, one worshipper and wounded 26.
A crowd gathered outside the mosque to protest the bloodletting, setting fire to cars, shops and gas stations and clashing with police. The mob soon turned its rage on a nearby KFC restaurant, knocking out windows and setting it ablaze. Four workers were found burned to death and two others died after hiding in a freezer.
"People went mad, they had no idea what they were doing," said Turabi. "People hate America. For many people in Pakistan, KFC is a symbol of America."
Shiites in particular are feeling targeted, and their frustration is exploding into rage, said Samina Ahmed, an analyst with the International Crisis Group.
"There are perceptions that the United States is anti-Islam," she said. "But what it really is is frustration, a sense of insecurity. They don't know what to do, so anger can turn to attacks on U.S. symbols."
A student who said he was nearby when the KFC was targeted summed up the mood on the street.
"We hate America because Americans are responsible for the miseries of all Muslims in the world," said Nisar Haider, a spokesman for the Immamia Student Organization.
The Karachi mosque bombing came just three days after a blast ripped through a crowded Muslim shrine where hundreds of worshippers were enjoying a popular annual festival in Islamabad. About 20 worshippers were killed and dozens wounded.
Officials were clearly rattled by the spike in violence.
"These incidents are happening one after the other," said Rauf Siddiqi, home minister of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital. "We are trying to find a link between them. This is a criminal and merciless attack."
Most Pakistani Sunnis and Shiites live together peacefully, and Muslim leaders have been quick to condemn the killings.
And not all rallies turn violent, of course.
A large but peaceful gathering Friday in Islamabad called for punishing those involved in mishandling the Quran. The "sacrilege of the U.S. extremists" was denounced, but speakers also repeatedly condemned the Islamabad shrine attack and called for unity among Muslims.
"Everybody condemns the bombings," said Qazi Hussain Ahmed, a lawmaker and leader of the six-party religious alliance Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal, or United Action Forum. "Sunnis and Shiites come together to condemn them."
He stressed that protests are not only directed at the United States, and said the elimination of Muslim-on-Muslim extremism is a major concern cited at rallies.
"There have been demonstrations in Pakistan against such bombings," he said. "There have been strikes and entire cities have closed down in protest against them."