Suicide bomber kills 15 at mosque in Pakistan

A suicide attacker detonated a huge bomb that ripped through a Shi’ite Muslim mosque in an eastern Pakistani city during Friday prayers, killing at least 15 people and injuring dozens, officials said.

Police said that hundreds of people were inside the Zainabia mosque in the centre of Sialkot city at the time of the blast, which severely damaged walls and left body parts scattered inside.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, which comes less than a week after Pakistan killed a top al-Qaeda suspect in a shootout in southern Pakistan—leading the government to claim it had broken the back of the terror network in the country.

Witnesses reported that a man with a briefcase entered the mosque shortly before the blast and that the briefcase exploded, Sialkot police chief Nisar Ahmed said.

“We are almost certain it was a suicide attack,” he said. He said bomb disposal experts were examining remains of the briefcase, and their initial assessment was that it contained explosives.

He said that at least 15 people were killed. “Dozens of people have been taken to hospital in critical condition, and I think the casualties and death toll will rise,” he said.

Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said 14 people were killed and dozens were injured, but said he had no information about what caused the explosion.

Another official at the police control room in Sialkot said the blast left a crater inside the mosque and had caused severe damage to the walls and shattered windows.
Witnesses said many of the injured suffered burns.

Ahmed said a mob initially prevented police from entering inside. People had started pelting police with bricks and stones and wrecking property, torching at least one motorbike.

“I’m trying to handle the situation, I’m holding talks with their elders. I’m telling them we’ve come to help them,” Ahmed said.

Murid Hussain, who lives near the mosque, said there was human flesh scattered inside the mosque and smoke everywhere. One of his relatives was injured in the explosion and just remembered hearing a blast and then waking up in the hospital.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed confirmed the blast but said he had no details on casualties. “This is the work of enemies of Pakistan and enemies of Islam, and we condemn it,” he said in Islamabad.

Mosques of Pakistan’s Shiite minority have often been targeted in sectarian violence with majority Sunni Muslims. Most of Pakistan’s 150-million Muslims live in harmony, but there are radical elements on both sides of the sectarian divide.

Pakistan has been a key ally in the United States-led war on terrorism since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. That support has triggered an angry backlash by Islamic militants who have launched repeated attacks across Pakistan.

The al-Qaeda operative killed last weekend, Amjad Hussain Farooqi, was believed to be behind the kidnapping and beheading in 2002 of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, and two failed assassination attempts on President General Pervez Musharraf that left 17 other people dead in December 2003.

Officials said Farooqi was a recruiter for al-Qaeda in Pakistan and had masterminded previous bombings against Shi’ite Muslims. He was also member of the Sunni Muslim militant group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi.

A Shiite leader in the main southern city of Karachi claimed Friday’s bombing was retaliation for the police shooting of Farooqi.

“Definitely, it was the work of the friends of Farooqi,” said cleric Allama Hassan Turabi, adding, “the people who planned this attack perhaps don’t understand that we are not supporters of America ... We are also against America.”

Turabi demanded Musharraf, who returned on Thursday from official visits to the United States and Europe, sack the interior minister and police chief for failing to protect the mosque.

The last major bombings against Shi’ite mosques were in Karachi in May, when two separate attacks three weeks apart, killed more than 40 people, and caused a wave of sectarian unrest in the volatile city. Authorities suspected the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group was responsible. - Sapa-AP

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