- Associated Press - Sunday, April 3, 2011

MULTAN, Pakistan (AP) — A pair of suicide bombers struck a shrine in Pakistan on Sunday, killing 30 people gathered there and pressing a campaign of attacks against places of worship that extremists consider un-Islamic, officials said.

The practice of praying, singing and meditating at the shrines of holy men is widespread and much loved across Pakistan, but extremists consider it a dangerous deviation from the austere Islam they espouse.

Several thousand people were attending celebrations to mark the anniversary of the Sakhi Sarwar shrine in the Dera Ghazi Khan district of Punjab province when the bombers struck crowds outside the complex, said government administrator Iftikhar Saho.

A stampede followed the bombings, but it was unclear whether that caused any casualties.

Emergency coordinator Natiq Hayat said 30 people were killed and 100 wounded, 20 of them critically.

TV footage showed ambulances racing to hospitals and volunteers helping blood-soaked victims.

Shrines in Pakistan range from one-room tombs in small villages to large complexes in major cities that attract thousands every day. There has been a series of bloody attacks on them, including one that killed 47 people at the nation’s most revered shrine in Lahore last year.

Local and foreign Islamist militants have carried out hundreds of attacks in Pakistan over the past three years, targeting government buildings and security forces, Western facilities such as embassies and hotels, and religious minorities and Muslim sects they consider heretical.

The government and the army have tried to crack down on the militants but have struggled to unite the nation against the threat and face persistent allegations they are protecting some extremists. Many Islamist politicians do not publicly criticize the militants, preferring to spread conspiracy theories that American or Indian agents are responsible. These views are widely aired, often uncritically, in some media.



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