As published by MSNBC.com:
Gunmen attack Shiite procession in Pakistan
At least 41worshippers killed, more than 150 wounded
The Associated Press
Updated: 11:28 a.m. ET March 02, 2004
QUETTA, Pakistan - Armed men set off an explosion and opened fire on Shiite Muslim worshippers during a religious procession in southwestern Pakistan on Tuesday, killing at least 41 people and wounding more than 150 others, authorities said.
The attackers struck in Quetta on the Ashoura holiday — the holiest day in the Shiite calendar — just hours after a series of coordinated blasts in Iraq hit major Shiite Muslim shrines in Karbala and Baghdad, killing at least 143 people. There was no indication the attacks were connected.
The attacks in Quetta ignited rioting in the city. A Sunni Muslim mosque, a television network office and several shops were set afire, and an exchange of gunfire took place near the scene of the initial attack, police said.
Mohammed Wasim, a doctor at the Central Government Hospital in Quetta, said the facility had received 19 bodies. The Combined Military Hospital reported 22 bodies were brought in since the attack early Tuesday afternoon.
A senior intelligence official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that authorities had separated the remains of one of the suspected attackers, and there was evidence he may have blown himself up.
Qamar Zaman, an assistant police inspector in Quetta, said more than 150 people had been injured, some of them critically.
Attack believed aimed at destabilization
Government officials said the carnage was an effort by extremist groups to destabilize the country. President Gen. Pervez Musharraf has been a staunch ally of the U.S. war on terrorism, earning the ire of Islamic fundamentalists. He narrowly escaped two assassination attempts in December.
“Obviously, the purpose of this attack was to create unrest,” Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed told the Associated Press. “This is a very sad incident and we condemn it.”
Quetta Mayor Abdul Rahim Kakar told the AP he had imposed an immediate curfew in the city of 1.2 million and deployed troops and paramilitary forces to maintain law and order.
“I was present near the procession when we first heard an explosion and then some people fired shots,” he said. “We still do not know what kind of explosion it was.”
No arrests have been made.
Gunshots continued to ring out in the city after the killings, said Khyzar Hayyat, a local police official.
‘The situation is very bad’
“The situation is very bad,” he said. “I can hear gunshots.”
Riaz Khan, Quetta’s police chief, said a Sunni mosque was partially destroyed by fire. Ijaz Khan, a reporter for the private GEO television network, said six unidentified people entered the GEO office there and set it afire. The office was empty and no one was injured.
Last week, the network televised a talk show that allegedly aired offensive comments against Shiites.
Quetta was the site of one of the deadliest acts of sectarian violence in years in Pakistan. Attackers armed with machine-guns and grenades stormed a Shiite Muslim mosque there in July, killing 50 worshippers inside.
Allama Hassan Turabi, a senior Pakistani Shiite leader, demanded that Muarraf — who has repeatedly vowed to defeat extremism in the Islamic country — sack government officials, including the interior minister, for failing to prevent Tuesday’s attack.
“This is not the first attack against us. Our people are not safe at homes. They are not safe in mosques,” he said by telephone from Karachi.
2 killed in Shiite-Sunni clash in Punjab
Also on Tuesday, two people — one Shiite and one Sunni — were killed and 40 other people wounded in a clash between Shiite and Sunni Muslims in Phalia, a town in Punjab province, about 100 miles east of Islamabad, said local police official Nisar Ali Shah.
The shootout happened during a Shiite procession and people from the two sides then set several houses on fire, Shah said.
Security had been stepped up nationwide in anticipation of Muharram, a month of mourning when Shiite Muslims recall the seventh-century death of Hussein, grandson of Islam’s prophet, Muhammad.
Shiites mark the occasion with religious processions, wearing black clothes as a sign of mourning and whipping themselves in a sign of penitence over Hussein’s death.
Most of Pakistan’s Sunni and Shiite Muslims live peacefully together, but small radical groups on both sides are responsible for frequent attacks. About 97 percent of Pakistan’s population is Muslim, and Sunnis outnumber Shiites by a ratio of about 4-to-1.
Ahmed, the information minister, said Tuesday that authorities would seize any literature that was likely to incite sectarian violence.
|Replies||Last Reply at||Last Message|