Pakistan Shuts Mobile Phone Services on Shiite Muslim Gathering

Pakistan suspended mobile phone services in cities across all four provinces on a key date in the religious calendar for the country’s Shiite Muslims, a minority that has been repeatedly targeted by Sunni extremists.

Phone services in 39 cities will be suspended from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Dawn newspaper reported today, citing an official at the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority who it didn’t name. Mobile phones have been used in Pakistan to detonate explosives.

Processions are planned in the four provincial capitals, television channels reported, as Shiites commemorate Chehlum, which marks 40 days since the death anniversary of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussein.

Twenty-three people died when terrorists twice struck the event in 2010. A suicide bomber first rammed his motorbike into a bus carrying pilgrims in Karachi, and a hospital treating victims was later attacked.

A car bomb Dec. 30 struck a convoy of three buses bound for Shiite holy sites in neighboring Iran. The attack in the Mastung district of Baluchistan province triggered a fire in one of the vehicles killing at least 20 people, state-run Pakistan Television reported.

Attacks on Shiites are common in Pakistan, where the community accounts for about 15 percent of the country’s 200 million people. This year, militants linked to Pakistan’s Taliban movement have targeted Shiites from the ethnic Hazara community.

Pakistan has shut off cellular services at least three times since Sept. 21 when the nation protested an anti-Islam movie, demonstrations that left 11 people dead.