Gunmen attack mosques, kill 70 in Pakistan
Lahore, May 28, 2010
Gunmen attacked worshippers from a minority Muslim sect in two mosques of the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday, taking hostages and killing at least 70 people, officials said.
The gunmen opened fire shortly after Friday prayers and threw what could have been grenades at two Ahmadi mosques in residential neighbourhoods in Pakistan's cultural capital.
Sajjad Bhutta, deputy commissioner of Lahore, said at least 70 people had been killed in the twin attacks on mosques in Garhi Shahu and Model Town. A total of 78 were injured.
The death toll at Garhi Shahu was higher, Bhutta said, because three attackers blew themselves up with suicide vests packed with explosives when police tried to enter the building.
Police are still searching the area as two attackers were still at large.
Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif said the incidents would generate greater resolve to combat extremism. "It's a reminder to the nation that Pakistan will achieve its destiny only after we get rid of the worst type of extremism and fundamentalism," he told a news conference. "The entire nation will fight this evil."
He said one attacker had been arrested. Police in Model Town confirmed one gunmen had been arrested and another killed. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on the Pakistani Taliban.
"It's too early to say who is behind these attacks," said a Lahore-based security official. "But my guess is that like most other attacks, there would be some link to the Taliban or their associated militants."
Punjab's Law Minister Rana Sanaullah said the arrested attacker was a teenage Pashtun, an ethnic group making up the majority in parts of northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. This, he said, indicated a link to the Pakistani tribal area of Waziristan and strongly hinted at a Taliban link.
"The prayer leader was giving a sermon when we heard firing and blasts. Everybody stood up and then two gunmen barged into the mosque and sprayed bullets," Fateh Sharif, a 19-year-old student, told Reuters from Model Town.
"They had long beards. They were carrying rucksacks."
Bhutta said a suicide vest laden with explosives was recovered from the Model Town mosque, where some attackers escaped. One fired at a television van before the area was made safe.
"He was young, clean-shaven. He sprayed bullets at our van while fleeing the scene," Rabia Mehmood, a reporter for Express Television, told Reuters.
Ahmadis are a minority Muslim sect founded in the late 19th century. They hold unorthodox beliefs among Muslims, including that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion and died in Kashmir.
Pakistan is the only Muslim state to have declared Ahmadis non-Muslims. Its 4 million-odd members have seen their religious rights in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan curtailed by law. - Reuters