- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 22, 2003

KARACHI, Pakistan, Feb. 22 (UPI) — Unidentified gunmen killed an 11-year-old child and nine other people in a Shiite mosque in the Pakistani port city of Karachi Saturday while they were saying their evening prayers, police said.

Seven people were also injured in the attack at the Mehdi mosque near the Karachi airport, two of them seriously. The victims were taken to Jinnah Hospital, where an angry crowd soon gathered to demand revenge and police imposed emergency cordons.

Sectarian and ethnic violence is not new to Karachi, where hundreds of people have been killed in clashes between rival groups during the last five years.

Witnesses said they saw three unidentified men waiting at a roadside tea stall near the mosque. One of them, local resident Ali Hussain, said, "When the prayers started, they walked into the mosque and sprayed the worshippers with bullets." He added that most of those killed came from the Gilgit valley in northern Pakistan.

A large number of Shias from Gilgit, more than 1,400 kilometers (875 miles) north of Karachi, live in the Rifah-e-Aam Society. Most of them pray at the nearby Mehdi mosque.

So far no one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack but in the past police have blamed a Sunni extremist group called Sipah-e-Sahaba for attacks on Shiites. The group has also attacked Pakistan's tiny Christian minority.

Sunni are the largest religious group in Pakistan but about 25 percent of its population claim adherence to the Shiite version of Islam. The two factions split only a few decades after the Mohammed's death in 632 A.D. over interpretation of the founding leader's intentions for successors and governance.

Sipah-e-Sahaba had close links to Afghanistan's former Taliban rulers. Before U.S. forces defeated the Taliban in December 2001, terrorists associated with Sipah-e-Sahaba often fled to Afghanistan after carrying out attacks in Pakistan.

Attacks on minorities have not stopped despite the arrest of many Sipah-e-Sahaba activists.


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