Anti-Taliban Cleric, Three Followers Killed in Islambad Blast

By Shaiq Hussain and Haq Nawaz Khan
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 12, 2009 10:43 AM

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 12 -- A suicide bomb attack on a religious seminary in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore Friday killed a top anti-Taliban Muslim cleric and three of his followers, police said.

Within minutes of the blast, another suicide bombing at a mosque in the northwestern garrison town of Nowshera killed four people and injured dozens of others, officials said. The mosque was located near a military supply depot.

Sarfraz Naeemi, a moderate Pakistani cleric known across the nation for his strong opposition to the radical Islamist Taliban movement, was attacked at his seminary complex just after he had led Friday prayers. He was rushed to a hospital, but his wounds proved to be fatal.

"Dr. Naeemi has been martyred; he has been in the blast," said Lahore's police chief, Pervez Rathore.

The slain Muslim cleric organized several meetings of anti-Taliban religious scholars in recent weeks to mold public opinion against the militants and in the favor of ongoing military operations in northwestern Pakistan's Swat Valley. He had labeled the activities of the Taliban as "un-Islamic."

Another police official, Sohail Sukhera, told reporters that the suicide bomber blew himself up inside Naeemi's office in the seminary. He said three other people were killed and six wounded in the attack.

Local television news channel footage showed the building housing the seminary offices partially collapsed, with broken glass, rubble and blood stains covering the floor.

Infuriated seminary students staged a demonstration against the killing of Naeemi. They blocked the road outside the religious school and shouted slogans against the Taliban.

In Nowshera, a suicide car bomber detonated his vehicle near a mosque as worshipers were leaving after attending Friday prayers.

"The mosque situated in the military cantonment area was targeted by the suicide bomber," said Abdullah Khan, a local police official. He said the blast killed at least four people and injured more than 60.

The twin bombings appeared to be part of a series of retaliatory attacks by militants in the wake of a Pakistani military operation against the Taliban in the Swat Valley. After progress in the Swat operation, which was launched more than a month ago, Pakistani security forces have also started limited operations in other parts of the northwestern region.

Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari strongly condemned the blasts in Lahore and Nowshera and ordered an investigation into the attacks.

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