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S H Khan
20 Feb 2009 12:21
A suicide bomber ran into a crowd of mourners at the funeral on Friday of a slain Shi’ite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan, killing 30 people and triggering a rampage by enraged mobs.
Witnesses told of horrifying scenes after the explosion rocked Dera Ismail Khan, which has a history of sectarian violence in the Sunni-majority nation.
Gulzar Hussain (26) said he had been walking in the funeral procession for the late Sher Zaman, a local cleric shot dead a day earlier, when a man rushed into the centre of the crowd.
Suddenly there was a defeaning explosion.
“All I could see after the blast were body parts lying in a pool of blood,” he told AFP by telephone from his hospital bed.
“Everyone around me was injured, crying and moaning. I saw injured children crying with pain.
“It was the most horrible sight of my life.
My foot was injured badly.
Saadullah Khan, a local police official, told AFP that 30 people had died and 65 were injured.
Pakistan has suffered a series of attacks by Islamist militants which have fanned international fears for the stability of this nuclear-armed nation.
However, although there was no immediate claim for the blast on Friday—the main Muslim day of rest—witnesses were swift to blame sectarian extremists this time.
It came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bomb attack against Shi’ite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan, in what was one of Pakistan’s deadliest sectarian attacks.
“The government must stop the genocide of Shi’ites in Dera Ismail Khan. They are killing us, attacking our houses and do not spare even our funerals,” said Hussain from hospital.
Authorities ordered troops into Dera Ismail Khan and imposed a curfew after volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners degenerated into angry riots.
Mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up roadblocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the scene.
“A curfew has been imposed in the city,” district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.
“The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order.”
Zaman, the Shi’ite cleric who was being buried, was shot dead on Thursday in a busy market by unidentified gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike, police said.
He had been a prominent member of the town’s Shi’ite community and organised community gatherings, police said.
Shi’ites account for about 20% of Pakistan’s population of 160-million and although fellow Muslims usually coexist peacefully, more than 4 000 people have died in outbreaks of sectarian violence nationwide since the late 1980s.
On February 3, a blast ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, killing one person and wounding 18 others.
Extremist attacks in Pakistan, a key United States ally, have killed more than 1 600 people since government forces besieged a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.
Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.—Sapa-AFP
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