Blast Near Pakistani Capital Kills 22

By Zarar Khan
Associated Press
Monday, April 6, 2009

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, April 5 -- A suicide bombing at a crowded Shiite 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 killed 22 people and wounded dozens, he said.

A little-known group thought to be linked to the Pakistani Taliban asserted responsibility for the attack. Pakistan has a history of sectarian violence, often involving Sunni extremists targeting minority Shiite Muslims.

TV footage showed pools of blood in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and shoes littered the ground, while at least one car and four motorcycles were damaged. A policeman with bandaged legs and a wounded man wearing a bloodstained shirt were shown on hospital beds crying in pain. A woman standing in the emergency ward of the hospital wailed, "Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"

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

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

Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani condemned the attack and directed authorities to "bring the perpetrators to justice." Such statements from the premier have become routine in Pakistan, where extremists seem bent on wreaking havoc.

Most of the insurgent 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, all of 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 man 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 in the worst attack in Pakistan this year.

Some insurgent groups that are historically sectarian are thought to have forged ties with the Pakistani Taliban, themselves followers of a harsh brand of Sunni Islam.

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