Gunmen separated children from adults before opening fire on a bus carrying 60 members of a minority Muslim group in Pakistan on Wednesday, the father of a survivor has told VICE News.
At least 45 Ismaili Shia Muslims, an international community who follow a Europe-based spiritual leader called the Aga Khan, were murdered in the attack in Karachi.
"My daughter told me that the terrorists asked passengers to put their heads down and also separated two more children from the others," said a man whose daughter survived, but wife was killed. "One of the attackers ordered his colleague to shoot everyone, after which they began indiscriminately firing." His daughter noted that all the attackers were speaking fluent Urdu, said the man, who gave his name as Mayoor.
Sindh Police Inspector General Ghulam Haider Jamali told VICE News a survivor said six motorcyclists had stopped the bus. "First they managed to blast the bus tires, then — without saying a word — they started firing on the bus," he said. "Bodies, windows, then one of them shot the driver from the driver's seat, and another entered the bus and began shooting people. Then they started firing indiscriminately."
"The armed men used 9mm pistols in the massacre and SMG shells were recovered from the crime scene," Jamali continued. "The attackers managed to flee after the attack."
Ismaili community leader Nisar Ali told VICE News the bus had departed around 9am local time and was carrying passengers to a prayer meeting. The bus was reserved for use by Ismailis and did about five trips to different parts of the city each day, he said, picking people up from their homes and dropping them off at work and religious meetings.
A witness to the attack who did not want to give his name told VICE News that he was working on a construction site when he heard the noise of gunfire at about 9.30am local time. "I saw a man firing on the bus, and others entered." After about 15 or 20 minutes, the witness said, the gunmen "peacefully flew [away] on their motorcycles."
Police Superintendent Najib Khan told VICE News that leaflet and pamphlets claiming to be published by the Islamic State (IS) were found at the crime scene. "According to the initial investigation," Khan said, "this is a target terrorist attack, in which terrorists had done their homework and planned it." Furthermore, Khan said, they appeared to have deliberately chosen a place which is "under-developed and not a busy area." Khan added: "The targeted passengers belonged to the Ismaili community."
VICE News obtained copies of the leaflets, which included text in both Urdu and English, and claimed that IS had carried out the attack.
However another group claimed responsibility in an email seen by VICE News. Jundullah, a splinter group of the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an al Qaeda-affiliated group that has targeted Shia minorities and foreign tourists in the past, said: "This is a well-planned attack and we will continuously conduct attacks like these." The group considered the Ismailis to be infidels, it said.
After news of the attack broke, Pakistani Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah told a press conference that an investigation would be conducted. "We will find out whether the bus had security; whether they had asked for it or not. If there is a security lapse, it will be investigated."
Shah also announced a compensation of Rs 500,000 ($7,815) for the relatives of those killed in the massacre and Rs 200,000 ($3,126) compensation for those wounded in the attack.
Raheel Sharif, Pakistan's chief of army staff, canceled a three-day visit to Sri Lanka and departed for Karachi after hearing about the murders.
Other Pakistani leaders who have expressed their shock include Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf chairman Imran Khan, who strongly condemned the attack and expressed grief over the murder of citizens, saying he was "stunned and grieved at most condemnable terror attack in Karachi on ordinary citizens of Pakistan belonging to a most peaceful community."
The spiritual leader of the Ismaili Muslim community Aga Khan — a position currently held by Shah Karim — also reacted to the news, saying: "This attack represents a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the families of those killed and wounded in the attack,"
Follow Mohammad Zubair Khan on Twitter: @HazaraZubair
Follow Sally Hayden on Twitter: @sallyhayd