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27 May 2005 12:53
A suicide bombing at a shrine crowded with Shi’ite Muslims celebrating a religious festival near Pakistan’s capital killed at least 20 people and wounded dozens of others, witnesses said.
The explosion ripped through hundreds of worshippers as they recited the Qur’an beneath tents at the Bari Imam shrine on the outskirts of Islamabad.
An Associated Press photographer at the scene counted at least 20 bodies, many of them in pieces, making it hard to give an exact figure. An intelligence official said at least 20 were killed and 150 were wounded.
“It was like hell,” said Syed Muktar Hussain Shah (40) who had been waiting for a prominent Shi’ite leader, Hamid Moasvi, to address the gathering when the bomb went off.
“I fell down ...
“None of the bodies was intact,” said Dr Wahid Abbas, who helped treat the wounded. “Some had legs blown off, some had their hands blown off.”
He and other witnesses said police collected the head of a suspected suicide bomber. Authorities did not immediately confirm that information.
The Shi’ite leader, Moasvi, was not hurt, witnesses said.
Mukhtar Kazmi, who was running a free clinic at the shrine, said they had treated about 200 people.
The shrine is about one kilometre from the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.
Police cordoned off the shrine and blocked access roads after the blast.
Hundreds of Shi’ite worshippers, weeping and moaning in grief, beat their chests in mourning. Some clashed with police after officers baton-charged the crowd to clear the way for ambulances.
Many of the Shi’ites also chanted, “Down with America!”.
Ali Ahmad, a worshipper who was injured in the blast, said he had seen a man dressed in a police uniform who appeared to be the bomber walk inside as worshippers recited the Qur’an. Police at the shrine tried to stop the man but failed to prevent the attack, he said.
However, another witness, SM Shirazi, gave a different account. He said two bearded men he thought were the bombers entered the gathering and sat near a podium at the front. An explosion then occurred, and the body of one of them flew in the air, he said. He didn’t know what happened to the other man.
Shabbir Hussain, who was sitting away from the gathering, said there was panic after the blast.
“I saw pieces of dead bodies, lots of dust in the air. Then I heard people crying and people wailing and I left because we feared a series of bombs. People were shouting, ‘Leave the place, there might be another explosion!”’
The motive for the attack was not immediately clear, but there are frequent sectarian attacks in this Islamic country by extremist elements of the Sunni and minority Shi’ite sects, although most live peacefully together.
The schism between Sunnis and Shi’ites dates back to a seventh century dispute over who was the true heir to the Prophet Mohammed.
In February, gunmen opened fire on mourners returning from a funeral near the shrine, sparking a firefight that killed three people and injured several others. The violence was believed to be linked to a feud between two families over control of the shrine.
Later on Friday, radical Islamic groups planned rallies in Islamabad and other cities in Pakistan to protest the alleged desecration of the Qur’an by interrogators at the United States military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. - Sapa-AP
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