- The Washington Times - Friday, July 4, 2003

QUETTA, Pakistan — An apparent suicide attack on a packed mosque killed as many as 47 persons yesterday, sending enraged Shi’ite Muslims on a rampage through this southwestern city. The government called in troops and imposed a curfew to try to quell the violence.

Scores more were wounded in one of the bloodiest attacks in a long series of assaults on the country’s Shi’ite Muslim minority.

There was no claim of responsibility in the bomb attack, but Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed blamed “sectarian elements,” an apparent reference to outlawed extremist groups of the Sunni Muslim majority, suspected in most of the previous attacks.

Estimates of the death toll varied. Emergency officials put the count at 47, but Mr. Ahmed said at least 30 died.

Some witnesses said the attack was carried out by two suicide bombers while others said attackers threw grenades into the mosque, where an estimated 2,000 worshippers were gathered for Friday prayers. One man was in police custody.

Shi’ite Muslims angered by the blast rioted in Quetta’s streets. Gunfire could be heard as small mobs later gathered near the mosque and set fires. Paramilitary forces were deployed to restore order, police inspector Shaoib Suddle said.

Police imposed a curfew on Quetta, the capital of Baluchistan province and a city of 1.2 million people, about a third of whom are Shi’ites. There was no indication when the curfew would be lifted.

One man was in police custody in connection with the attack, Mr. Suddle said. It wasn’t immediately clear how the suspect was linked to the explosion.

Ahmad Ali, who suffered shrapnel wounds in the explosion, said he saw two suicide bombers enter the mosque.

“One of them was placing something that I guess was the bomb when he was seen by a security guard at the mosque.

“The guard killed him, and the other one blew himself up,” Mr. Ali said.

Other witnesses said grenades were thrown into the mosque.

President Pervez Musharraf, in France on the final leg of an international tour, vowed to “act very strongly” against those responsible for the attack.

“It is unfortunate there are some elements in Pakistan who undermine what Pakistan stands for and for what the vast majority stands for,” Gen. Musharraf said at a news conference in Paris.

Pakistan’s information minister blamed terrorists, without identifying them.

“The purpose of this attack is to disrupt law and order, and nothing else,” Sheik Rashid Ahmed said.

Violent groups from both the Sunni and Shi’ite sects in Pakistan, a nation of 140 million people, have sprung up in recent years.

Shi’ites were targeted in two separate attacks last month in Quetta.

On June 2, two gunmen riding motorcycles fatally shot a Shi’ite Muslim prayer leader, Syed Niaz Hussain.

On June 8, two gunmen, also riding motorcycles, killed 11 police officers, most of whom were Shi’ites. The attackers sprayed a truck full of police officers with machine-gun fire.

Gen. Musharraf has banned several militant Muslim groups in Pakistan, including extremist Sunni Muslim organizations that have been blamed for earlier attacks on Shi’ite Muslims.

Despite the ban, many of the groups’ leaders still operate freely.

The Shi’ite-Sunni split in Islam dates to a seventh-century dispute about the succession of authority after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.

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