- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 5, 2009

ISLAMABAD (AP) - A suicide bomber attacked a crowded Shiite mosque south of the Pakistani capital on Sunday, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more in the latest carnage to hit the U.S.-allied nation, officials said.

Violence in Pakistan has spread well beyond the dangerous Afghan border region, including a suicide bombing in Islamabad on Saturday that killed eight paramilitary personnel and a deadly commando-style attack against a police academy last week in Lahore.

Fedayeen al-Islam, a little-known group believed linked to the Taliban, claimed responsibility through a spokesman. Pakistan also has a history of sectarian violence that often involves attacks by Sunni extremists on minority Shiites.

Separately, a senior Pakistan Taliban commander claimed responsibility for Saturday’s attack on the paramilitary forces, saying it was in retaliation for U.S. drone missile strikes against militants in Pakistan near the Afghan border and threatening to carry out two suicide attacks per week. The group has also said it carried out the attack in Lahore.

Sunday’s suicide bomber set off his explosives at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, about 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Islamabad, during a religious congregation, said Nadim Hasan Asif, a top security official in Punjab. He said the blast killed 22 people and injured more than 30.

“The suspected man was stopped at the entrance and pushed himself in and exploded,” Asif said.

Another police officer, Nasir Khan Durrani, said the attack could have been much worse. “Had he succeeded in exploding inside it could have caused a much bigger loss because there were hundreds of people inside,” Durrani said.

Chaudhry Nasrullah, the top health official in Chakwal, confirmed that 22 people were killed and that more than 50 were injured, a dozen of them critically. He appealed to the government to send helicopters to evacuate the most seriously wounded.

Farid Ali, who left the mosque just before the attack occurred, said he felt the blast on his back and looked back and saw smoke and dust. “I saw several people lying dead,” he told Express News TV. “There was blood everywhere.”

Local television footage showed pools of blood on the road in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and a pair of shoes also littered the ground. Police investigators were shown collecting evidence, not far from a car and four motorcycles that were damaged by the blast.

A policeman with both his legs bandaged and another wounded man whose shirt was stained with blood were shown on hospital beds crying in pain. A woman standing in the emergency ward of the hospital wailed, “Oh my God. Oh my God.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying it was masterminded by people who are against the state and want to give Islam a bad name.

Most of the militant attacks in Pakistan take place in the area near the Afghan border, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants have established bases and often strike U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

Late last month, a suicide bomber blew up in a packed mosque near the Afghan border at the climax of a Friday prayer service, killing 48 people and wounding scores more in the worst attack to hit Pakistan this year.

But militants have also stepped up attacks in Pakistan’s interior.

A man identified as Umar Farooq who says he speaks for the shadowy militant organization Fedayeen al-Islam told The Associated Press via telephone Sunday that the group had staged the attack on the mosque as part of a “campaign against infidels.”

He also warned the U.S. to stop its drone-fired missile strikes on militant targets in Pakistan’s northwest.

Little is known of the group, but it is believed linked to the Pakistani Taliban. In the past it has claimed responsibility for other attacks, including the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel.

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud has said his group was behind the attack on the police academy, which killed 12 people, including seven police. He vowed to carry out more attacks unless the U.S. stopped the missile strikes.

The drone attacks have continued.

One of Mehsud’s deputies, Hakimullah Mehsud, told the AP that the Pakistani Taliban carried out the suicide attack against the paramilitary camp in Islamabad on Saturday.

He said the attack was in retaliation for U.S. drone strikes and the group would carry out two suicide attacks per week in Pakistan. He had warned last week that militants would soon strike Islamabad.

Separately Sunday, officials said the number of illegal migrants who died in Pakistan’s southwestern Baluchistan province after being cooped up in a metal shipping container was lower than first reported. The toll was 48, not 62, police official Khalid Masood said.

Another 52 _ most of them Afghans apparently trying to reach Iran _ were hospitalized after their discovery Saturday. Ten more are missing, he said.


Associated Press writers Asif Shahzad in Islamabad, Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Abdul Sattar in Quetta contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide