Pakistani militants affiliated with the Islamic State executed 43 followers of the Aga Khan on Wednesday with pointblank gunshots to the head and chest in the southern port city of Karachi, police officials said.
The victims were among 60 people who were aboard a pink bus that had left a residential compound inhabited exclusively by members of the Aga Khan’s Ismaili faith, an offshoot of Shiite Islam, when it was intercepted about 9:30 a.m. by six gunmen on three motorcycles, according to Ghulam Haider Jamali, the police chief for Sindh province, where Karachi is located.
He said the attackers shot and wounded the driver to force him to stop the vehicle and then climbed on board, shooting each of the occupants in the head and chest with 9mm pistols – a style of execution chillingly reminiscent of the Pakistani Taliban’s massacre in December of 148 people, most of them children, at an army-run school in the northern city of Peshawar.
The only passenger not shot was a girl who hid under a seat; the wounded driver drove the survivors to a nearby hospital in the bullet-ridden vehicle, blood dripping from its exits.
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The victims were all followers of hereditary spiritual leader Prince Karim Aga Khan, a world-renowned philanthropist based in Paris. Most Ismailis live in Afghanistan, India, Iran, Pakistan and Tanzania, where they are known for their education and business prowess.
The previous Aga Khan, Prince Sadruddin, who died in 2003 after heading the Ismaili faith for 70 years, was an international statesman and horse-racing enthusiast who navigated his followers away from controversial politics, enabling them to live in peace in countries where sectarian tensions often result in bloodshed.
Ismaili followers have remained mostly safe during a decade of militant insurgency in Pakistan, which was founded in 1947 by an Ismaili-born attorney, Mohammed Ali Jinnah.
“This attack represents a senseless act of violence against a peaceful community,” Prince Karim said in a statement posted on the website of his global charity, the Aga Khan Development Network.
Responsibility for the bus attack was claimed by Jundullah, an al Qaida-linked offshoot of the Pakistani Taliban that last November switched allegiance to the Islamic State’s Syria-based leadership.
Islamic State leaflets in English and Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, were left at the scene of the massacre by the gunmen, who fled unchallenged.
Jundullah specializes in high-profile attacks on Shiite Muslims and other religious minorities in Pakistan, including the January suicide bombing of a mosque in the central town of Shikarpur that killed 60 worshipers.