Islamabad: Tight security was put in place across Pakistan and cellular phone services were shut down in many cities on Friday to avert possible terror attacks on Ashura, the 10th day of the Islamic month of Muharram.
The clampdown was enforced by thousands of security personnel. Bomb disposal squads, helicopter-borne snipers and specially installed CCTV cameras were part of security arrangements in major cities.
The arrangements were stricter this year because of threats from militants in the wake of the killing of Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan chief Hakimullah Mehsud in a US drone attack in North Waziristan and a senior leader of the Haqqani network, Nasiruddin Haqqani, in Islamabad.
Most roads leading to bazars, cantonments, imambargahs or Shia prayer halls, key buildings and residences of VIPs across the country were closed.
In some cities, police directed transporters not to bring their vehicles on the roads. Authorities decided to keep private vehicles at a distance from the routes of processions organised by Shia groups and special parking lots were set up.
Pillion-riding was already banned in many cities for the 9th and 10th of Muharram. The routes of Ashura processions were sealed in some cities and walk-through gates were put in place.
Shia mourners were allowed to join processions only after a thorough body search by security personnel and volunteers.
Zuljana and Taazia processions were taken out in several cities and towns and majalis were held across the country.
The federal Interior Ministry directed all provincial home departments to put police on a high state of alert. It further directed civilian law enforcement agencies like the Pakistan Rangers, Frontier Constabulary, Frontier Corps and Gilgit-Baltistan Scouts to work in coordination with local police.
The National Crisis Management Cell gathered several intelligence reports pointing to a possible wave of revenge attacks by the Taliban, particularly on Muharram 9, 10 and 12.
As part of the security drive in Islamabad, police arrested a would-be suicide bomber and his handler on Wednesday night for plotting an attack on an imambargah.
Another sectarian attack was foiled at Kot Addu in Punjab province, where police officials discovered explosives planted on the route of a Shia procession.
In Quetta, the paramilitary Frontier Corps yesterday seized a cache of arms and explosives from the border town of Chaman. The explosives were to be used in bombing a Muharram procession, officials claimed.