Sat, Feb 21, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Suicide blast kills 30 at funeral in Pakistan

PANIC Although no one claimed responsibility, witnesses blamed sectarian extremists for the blast. A curfew was imposed after the funeral degenerated into angry rioting

AFP , PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN AND WASHINGTON

A suicide bomber ran into a crowd of mourners at the funeral yesterday of a slain Shiite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan, killing 30 people and triggering a rampage by enraged mobs.

Witnesses told of horrifying scenes after the explosion rocked Dera Ismail Khan, which has a history of sectarian violence in the Sunni-majority nation.

Gulzar Hussain, 26, said he had been walking in the funeral procession for the late Sher Zaman, a local cleric shot dead a day earlier, when a man rushed into the center of the crowd.

Suddenly there was a deafening explosion.

“All I could see after the blast were body parts lying in a pool of blood,” he said by telephone from his hospital bed.

Saadullah Khan, a local police official, said that 30 people had died and 65 were injured.

Pakistan has suffered a series of attacks by Islamist militants which have fanned international fears for the stability of this nuclear-armed nation.

However, although there was no immediate claim for the blast, witnesses were swift to blame sectarian extremists this time.

It came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bomb attack against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan, in what was one of Pakistan's deadliest sectarian attacks.

“The government must stop the genocide of Shiites in Dera Ismail Khan. They are killing us, attacking our houses and do not spare even our funerals,” Hussain said from hospital.

Authorities ordered troops into Dera Ismail Khan and imposed a curfew after volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners degenerated into angry riots.

Mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up roadblocks with burning tires in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told Agence France-Presse by telephone from the scene.

“A curfew has been imposed in the city,” district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah said. “The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order.”

Zaman, the Shiite cleric who was being buried, was shot dead on Thursday in a busy market by unidentified gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike, police said.

Separately, Washington on Thursday expressed its concern to Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari that a deal allowing Shariah law in the volatile Swat Valley amounted to a possible capitulation to Taliban militants.

US envoy Richard Holbrooke told CNN in an interview on Thursday afternoon that he had spoken with Zardari by phone just hours earlier and expressed his “concern.”

“I am concerned, and I know Secretary [of State Hillary] Clinton is, and the president is, that this deal, which is portrayed in the press as a truce, does not turn into a surrender,” Holbrooke said.

“President Zardari has assured us it is not the case,” he said.

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