Carnage at Pak Mosque

 

Saturday  July 5, 2003

Shakil Shaikh • Special to Arab News

ISLAMABAD, 5 July 2003 — A suicide bombing attack at a Shiite mosque yesterday killed 45 worshipers and seriously injured 65 in the southwestern Pakistani city of Quetta. Around 2,000 people were offering Friday prayers at the mosque, known as Nasirul Aza Imambargah, when three attackers killed security guards, entered the mosque and started firing and throwing grenades.

“We have counted 45 dead bodies and there are 65 injured in hospitals,” said Naeem Ahmed, a local supervisor with the Edhi Welfare Trust, a humanitarian organization. But the government said it had reports that there were 36 dead, Information Minister Sheikh Rashid told reporters. Rashid said the government would crack down on elements trying to create unrest and instability in the country. “The iron hand of the law will not spare these anti-state elements. We will track them down and punish them,” Rashid told reporters.

Earlier, officials said at least 31 were killed and 50 injured in the attack. The announcement sparked communal riots that forced the government to impose an indefinite curfew.

At least one of the assailants had grenades wrapped around his body and was blown up, said the head of the Interior Ministry’s National Crisis Management Cell, Brig. Javed Cheema. “We are investigating from all angles and there is a strong possibility that one of the attackers was a suicide bomber,” Cheema told reporters.

The exact number of assailants was still unknown, police said. One attacker was killed by a grenade inside the mosque and another was killed at the main entrance by mosque guards, they said. A third suspected attacker, who was wounded in the shooting, died later in hospital, a police officer said.

After the attack angry mobs set ablaze several vehicles, including two from the fire brigade, and fired shots into the air. Relatives of the victims set on fire a part of the Civil Hospital in which they were being treated, forcing authorities to move the injured to the Combined Military Hospital, an eye-witness said.

Once the curfew was imposed, army and paramilitary troops, who had orders to shoot rioters on sight, moved in to restore calm, officials and witnesses said. Cheema said curfew had been imposed and paramilitary and police had been deployed to control the rioting.

The city was soon deserted as residents withdrew to their homes and thousands of employees were stranded in private and government departments, residents said. “Tension and fear have gripped the city where troops are constantly prowling the streets and have set up pickets,” said a resident by telephone from his home.

President Pervez Musharraf responded to the attack by vowing to crack down on extremists. There are “some elements in Pakistan that undermine whatever the vast majority stands for”, Musharraf said in Paris, where he wound up a four-nation tour. “We have to act very strongly against them.”

Prime Minister Mir Zafarullah Khan Jamali, who rushed to the provincial capital after canceling his engagements, strongly condemned the attack. He ordered the provincial administration to spare no effort in apprehending the culprits involved. An Interior Ministry spokesman said that a team of investigators comprising senior officials would assist the provincial administration in holding inquiry in to the incidents.

—Additional inputs from agencies

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