- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 25, 2011

LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up near a march by minority Shi’ite Muslims in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Tuesday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens, many of them security officers, officials said.

A second bomb blast, also apparently targeting Shi’ites, wounded six in the southern city of Karachi.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the Lahore attack, which laid bare the challenges facing Pakistani officials trying to secure cities far from the northwest where the militants have long thrived. Many recent attacks have targeted minority Muslim and other religious groups.

Thousands of Shi’ite worshippers were marking the end of a 40-day mourning period for the Islamic sect’s most beloved saint when the blast hit their procession early Tuesday evening. The bomber is believed to have been a young teenage boy, said senior police official Aslam Tareen. He said nine people died in the blast.

The suspected bomber was around 14 years old and was carrying a bag as he tried to reach the marchers, but police would not let him in without a body search, said Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah. He then set off his explosives at the security cordon, officials said.

“We should salute the police officials who laid down their lives but did not let the bomber in the procession,” Mr. Sanaullah said.

Footage from the scene showed ambulances racing to the area and men carrying away victims. One young man whose arm was apparently hurt screamed as he was placed on a stretcher. A white car caught up in the explosion was largely destroyed, its hood twisted upward. A man lay wounded on the ground with two women and a child weeping beside him.

Dr. Zahid Pervaiz at the city’s Mayo Hospital told reporters that 10 dead bodies had come in, while another 52 people were wounded.

Shakirullah Shakir, a spokesman for the Fidayeen-e-Islam wing of the Pakistani Taliban, told the Associated Press in a phone call that the militant group had dispatched the bomber and warned of more such bombings.

Later Tuesday evening, a bomb exploded near a group of people returning from a Shi’ite march in the Malir neighborhood of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city. Karachi police chief Fayaz Leghari said officials were trying to determine the exact nature of the blast.

Attacks roughly tripled last year in Lahore and Karachi, according to a recent report by the Islamabad-based Pak Institute for Peace Studies.

The trend is a sign that militants are having greater success exporting the fight far from their northwest heartland along the Afghan border. The Pakistani army, under U.S. pressure, has carried out several offensives against militants in its northwest, but violence persists.

Associated Press writers Ishtiaq Mahsud in Dera Ismail Khan and Ashraf Khan in Karachi contributed to this report.

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