Govt considers cellular service suspension as security ramped up
KARACHI: The Pakistani government is considering temporarily suspending cellular services in order to thwart possible terrorist attacks as the holy day of Ashura draws closer, the interior minister said Thursday.
Speaking to reporters in Rawalpindi, Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik said that there were credible terror threats for 8th, 9th and 10th of Muharram. The interior minister said a strategy was being planned to block cellular services from Thursday midnight.
He said that the provincial governments had also recommended banning cellular services on 9th and 10th Muharram due to the security situation.
Militants often use mobile phones as remote controls to detonate bombs and improvised explosive devices.
Malik added that a ban on motorcycle riding for the next three days was also under consideration.
The minister also hinted that a third group comprising the banned outfit Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) and Afghan refugees are involved in the recent spate of terrorism in the country, adding their only aim is to make money and destabilise the country.
Earlier, the Sindh provincial government closed down the Abdullah Shah Ghazi shrine in Karachi until midnight Thursday, also citing security risks and terrorist attack threats.
Sindh provincial minister Nadeem Bhutto told reporters there were threats of a possible terrorist attack, with police reports suggesting terrorists had planned to ram an explosive-laden vehicle into the shrine.
The shrine, which is regularly frequented by a large number of visitors, became the scene of a major terrorist attack on Oct 7, 2010, when suicide bombers blew themselves at the monument, leaving eight people dead.
The government has already ramped up security at airports and at five “highly sensitive” areas in the capital, identifying them as possible targets for terrorist attacks.
Intelligence agencies declared five areas in Islamabad as the most sensitive in the capital, with reports suggesting threats of possible terrorist attacks on the 8th and 10th day of Muharram.
The areas included Shehzad town, Tarnol, Golara, Bhara Kahu and city’s main Imambargah.
Meanwhile, security at all functional airports in the country, including the Karachi airport, was put on high alert to avert any possible attacks.
The interior ministry ordered to the Airport Security Force (ASF) to effectively manage security of the airports as passengers were directed to reach airport at least two hours before their flights.
Following the orders, the ASF deployed additional forces on the airports after the orders.
The security measures come as Pakistan kicked off a four-day meeting of the Developing-8 (D-8) countries, with leaders from Turkey, Malaysia, Iran, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Nigeria and Egypt attending the Islamabad summit themed ‘Democratic partnership for peace and prosperity’.
The conference in Islamabad follows a bloody day of sectarian and militant attacks in the country, with one blast at a Muharram procession in the adjoining twin city of Rawalpindi, kilometres from the capital.
A series of bomb explosions and targeted attacks rocked four Pakistani provinces Wednesday, killing at least 25 people. The attacks were militant and sectarian in nature.
Any large-scale sectarian or militant violence could hurt Pakistan’s efforts to show it has improved security as it hosts the leaders of eight developing countries at a summit in Islamabad.