- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2005

FATEHPUR, Pakistan - Frightened pilgrims crammed into buses leaving a remote village in southwestern Pakistan yesterday after a bombing at a Shi’ite shrine left 30 dead.

The Saturday night blast prompted anger and disbelief among the thousands who gather here 500 miles southwest of the capital, Islamabad, for an annual festival that bridges sectarian and religious divides.

“Everyone comes here, even Hindus. There is no distinction here between a Shi’ite and a Sunni,” said the shrine’s caretaker, Syed Sadiq Shah. “God’s curse be on those who did this. They have killed innocent people.”

The explosion carved out a 2-foot-deep crater and added to security fears in restive Baluchistan province, hit last week by fighting between government forces and renegade tribesmen.

No one took responsibility for the attack. Shoaib Nausherwani, Baluchistan’s home minister, said 30 persons died and 20 were wounded. Mr. Shah put the death toll at 44.

A time bomb packed with an estimated 6.6 pounds of explosives went off among pilgrims as they ate supper in an open area about 500 feet from the shrine.

Most of them had traveled from other regions of Baluchistan or neighboring Sindh province to mark the anniversary of the death of a 19th-century Shi’ite saint whose tomb is inside the shrine. Up to 20,000 people had arrived during the weekend for the three-day event at Fatehpur, an arid village of about 50 mud-brick homes.

“We were busy serving food to the travelers. I went into the kitchen and there was a big blast like an earthquake,” recounted shrine worker Ghulam Mohammed. “When I came out, there was blood everywhere and pieces of bodies.”

“This is a sad and terrible moment for us,” said Faiz Mohammed, a pilgrim boarding a bus ” one of many departing Fatehpur with scores of passengers crammed inside and sitting on top.

“We come here every year, and this year we saw lots of people lose their loved ones,” said the native of Jacobabad, a city in Sindh.

Pakistan has a history of violence between extremists of the majority Sunni and minority Shi’ite sects. It also has been plagued with attacks by militants angered by President Pervez Musharraf’s support of the U.S.-led war against al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan.

About 35,000 supporters of a religious alliance rallied in this southern Pakistani city yesterday.

The alliance, which demands that Gen. Musharraf step down as the army chief, made unexpected gains in parliamentary elections in 2002, mainly on a platform of opposition to the Pakistani leader and the U.S. war against terrorism that ousted the Taliban militia from power in Afghanistan in late 2001.

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