- The Washington Times - Friday, October 1, 2004

SIALKOT, Pakistan — A suicide attacker carrying a bomb in a briefcase struck a Shi’ite mosque crammed with hundreds of worshippers in eastern Pakistan, killing at least 25 persons and wounding more than 50 during prayers yesterday.

Shortly after the attack, experts defused a second bomb outside the mosque, where hundreds of angry Shi’ites had gathered to protest the attack.

No group claimed responsibility for the bombing. But a prominent Shi’ite cleric speculated it was in retaliation for the killing by security forces of a Sunni militant and top al Qaeda operative accused in the beheading of American reporter Daniel Pearl.

President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally, said the bombing showed “terrorists have no religion and are enemies of mankind.” He renewed his government’s commitment to root them out.

In the three years since Gen. Musharraf threw Pakistan’s support behind the U.S.-led war on terror, Islamic militants, often linked to al Qaeda, have launched repeated attacks against the government and Western targets.

Violence has also been directed at Shi’ites, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 150 million people, most of whom are Sunni Muslims. As in Iraq, where Sunni militants are suspected of carrying out provocative attacks on Shi’ites, sectarian tensions linger close to the surface in Pakistan.

The blast at 1:26 p.m. — during prayers for the Muslim sabbath — left a crater in the Zainabia mosque in the center of Sialkot and damaged its walls.

Witnesses said a man entered the mosque shortly before the blast carrying a briefcase, which then exploded, Sialkot Police Chief Nisar Ahmed said.

“I was praying when I first saw a bright light and then something exploded with a big bang, and I fell down,” said Sajjad Anwar, 36, who was being treated at a hospital.

“I saw human body pieces hitting the walls and ceiling of the mosque,” he said.

Another of the injured, Mumtaz Ali Shah, 43, said: “My mind stopped working for a while after the blast, but when I opened my eyes, I was lying among dead bodies.”

Police in Sialkot, 145 miles southeast of Pakistan’s capital Islamabad, said they were almost certain the bombing was a suicide attack. An initial assessment by experts examining remains of the briefcase found it contained explosives.

Police said at least 25 persons were killed and more than 50 wounded. A doctor at Allama Iqbal Hospital said some of the injured were in serious condition.

Shortly after the explosion, a bomb disposal squad found another briefcase bomb outside the mosque, said Mohammed Nazir, the squad’s chief.

Hundreds of angry Shi’ite youths went on a rampage after the attack. Police said the protesters damaged part of the hospital and dozens of vehicles and ransacked shops. Troops restored order.

A Shi’ite leader in the southern city of Karachi claimed the bombing was retaliation for the police shooting last weekend of Amjad Hussain Farooqi, a top Pakistani al Qaeda operative believed to be behind the kidnapping and beheading in 2002 of the Wall Street Journal reporter, Mr. Pearl.

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