Sun, Jul 06, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Pakistan vows to get `wild' killers

SPATE OF ATTACKS Apart from the bombing of a mosque near the Afghan border, hundreds of people have been killed in sectarian violence often aimed at Westerners

REUTERS , ISLAMABAD

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf yesterday vowed to deal severely with those behind the suicide bombing of a mosque which killed at least 47 worshippers, branding the attackers "ignorant and wild."

He was speaking on his return from a trip to the US and Europe during which he tried to calm investors' fears after a spate of attacks on Western and Christian targets in Pakistan last year blamed on Islamic militants.

"It does not matter whether they are religious extremists or sectarian extremists ... they are ignorant and wild," Musharraf, a key ally in the US-led war on terror, said at the airport.

At least 47 people were killed and 65 wounded in Friday's attack on the packed Shi'ite mosque in the southwestern city of Quetta, near the Afghan border.

Naeem Ahmed, a director of the Edhi Welfare Foundation, said in Quetta that the death toll had risen from 44 overnight because hospitals in the city had counted three more bodies.

No group has claimed outright responsibility, but officials said the attack appeared to be linked to the rivalry between extremists from minority Shi'ites and majority Sunni Muslims which has often exploded into violence in the past.

An angry Musharraf said those behind the attack should be "dealt with severely" and that the government would look into the possibility of involvement of a "foreign hand."

Commentators have suggested that the mosque bombing may be linked to neighbouring Afghanistan, because Quetta is close to the border and sectarian killings in the past have tended to be concentrated in the cities of Karachi and Multan.

"We are looking into it," Musharraf said when asked whether there may be an Afghan connection. "The possibility of any across-the-border involvement cannot be ruled out.

"We will have to take stern action whatever the cause. If it is some outside involvement ... we will take action against that also."

Afghanistan says Pakistan has not done enough to clamp down on remnants of the ousted Taliban regime and al-Qaeda network it sheltered, saying many militants are hiding in conservative rural areas along Pakistan's western frontier.

Friday's attack, the worst in Pakistan for several years, sparked violent protests in Quetta, where crowds of Shi'ite Hazaras, some firing shots into the air, took to the streets.

Vehicles, shops and a hospital wing were set ablaze, prompting the government to impose a curfew which is still in place and will not been lifted soon.

Hundreds of people have been killed in sectarian violence involving Sunni and Shi'ite militants in recent years.

Musharraf has banned several Islamic militant groups and arrested hundreds of people since announcing support for the US-led war on terror in 2001 but has failed to prevent sectarian attacks.

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