- The Washington Times - Friday, May 27, 2005

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber struck yesterday at a Muslim shrine packed with Shi’ite worshippers and close to the U.S. Embassy, killing at least 20 persons and wounding dozens.

After the blast, hundreds of Shi’ite pilgrims, beating their chests in mourning, clashed with baton-wielding police, who charged the crowd to clear the way for ambulances. Some of the Shi’ite protesters chanted, “Down with America.”

The explosion at the burial place of Bari Imam, a historic saint, on the outskirts of Islamabad, was the latest attack on a religious gathering in Pakistan, which has a long history of violent sectarian rivalry. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Witnesses said the bomb went off in an open space on the final day of the five-day festival to commemorate the saint. The festival is attended each year by thousands of Sunni and minority Shi’ite Muslims.

The blast ripped through a congregation of hundreds of Shi’ites under a canvas tent put up to shade them from the sun. They were preparing for the arrival of Shi’ite leader Hamid Moasvi, a vehement critic of the U.S.-led war on terrorism, who was about to deliver a sermon.

“There was an announcement that Hamid Moasvi is coming. Everybody stood up and then there was the explosion,” said Mohammed Ali, who was among the congregation. “Afterward, you couldn’t identify anyone. Some had their legs blown off, some had their hands blown off. I lifted so many of the people and my clothes were soaked with blood.”

Mr. Moasvi was not hurt, witnesses said.

Police immediately cordoned off the shrine, which is about a half-mile from the U.S. Embassy and the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

President Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al Qaeda, condemned the blast and appealed to his countrymen to unite “against religious terrorism, sectarianism and extremism.”

An Associated Press photographer at the shrine counted at least 20 bodies, many of them in pieces, scattered over about 50 yards, making it hard to get an exact figure. An intelligence officer said at least 20 persons were killed and 150 were wounded.

Information Minister Shaikh Rashid Ahmed said it was a suicide attack and blamed “enemies of Pakistan and Islam.”

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