- The Washington Times - Monday, April 6, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan | A suicide bombing at a crowded Shi’ite mosque south of Pakistan’s capital killed 22 people Sunday, the latest evidence of how security in the U.S.-allied nation is crumbling well beyond the Afghan border region, where al Qaeda and Taliban fighters thrive.

The violence came as a senior Pakistani Taliban commander said his group was behind a deadly suicide bombing Saturday night in Islamabad and promised two more attacks per week in the country if the United States does not stop missile strikes on Pakistani territory.

Sunday’s suicide bomber set off his explosives at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, about 50 miles south of Islamabad, said Nadeem Hasan Asif, a top security official in the province. The blast wounded dozens, he said.

Fedayeen al-Islam, a little-known group thought to be linked to the Pakistani Taliban, claimed that it had staged the attack.

TV footage showed pools of blood in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and shoes littered the ground, and a policeman with bandaged legs and a wounded man wearing a bloodstained shirt were shown on hospital beds crying in pain.

Farid Ali said he was leaving the mosque when he felt the blast on his back.

“I saw several people lying dead,” he told Express News TV. “There was blood everywhere.”

Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack and directed authorities to “bring the perpetrators to justice.” Such statements from the prime minister have become routine in Pakistan, which has a history of sectarian violence, often involving Sunni extremists targeting minority Shi’ite Muslims.

Most of the militants’ attacks in Pakistan occur in the northwest, where the Taliban and al Qaeda have strongholds from which they plan strikes on U.S. and NATO forces across the border in Afghanistan. Still, the country’s major cities have experienced assaults.

About a week ago, gunmen raided a police academy on the outskirts of Lahore, a vibrant city in the east near the Indian border, killing at least 12 people in a commando-style attack that prompted an eight-hour standoff with security forces.

Late last month, a suicide bomber blew himself 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.

Some historically sectarian militant groups are thought to have forged ties with the Pakistani Taliban, which follows a harsh brand of Sunni Islam.

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

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

The group has previously claimed responsibility for other attacks, including the bombing of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel and last week’s attack on the police academy in Lahore, but officials have never named it as a primary suspect.

Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud also claimed responsibility for the attack on the police academy.

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