Sun, Jan 11, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Series of explosions outside theaters in Lahore spark panic

AP , LAHORE AND PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN

Five small bombs exploded outside two theaters in a major eastern Pakistani city, but there were no casualties, police said.

The explosions late on Friday spurred panic in Lahore, a cultural hub that has largely escaped the scores of suicide and other bomb attacks that have bedeviled Pakistan in the past two years.

Police investigator Mushtaq Sukhera said religious extremists were behind these and other similar attacks.

“The group [of extremists] believes that these places are centers of anti-Islamic activities and spread obscenity,” he said, declining to identify the group. “We have enough evidence from our investigation of previous such attacks.”

The first four blasts occurred near the al-Falah Theater, which is also close to the Punjab provincial assembly building, senior police official Haider Ashraf said. He described them as “locally made, low-intensity timed devices.”

The fifth explosion occurred outside another theater almost 3km away.

“It was yet another low-intensity bomb blast outside Tamaseel Theater,” police official Chaudhry Mohammad Shafiq said.

Lahore’s top district government official Sajjad Ahmed Bhutta said “it seems to be an attempt to hurt the cultural activities of the city.”

Police said there were no casualties.

Television footage of the latest blasts showed ambulances rushing to the scene and people running through the area. At least one small blast was caught on camera, apparently occurring at the main gate of the al-Falah theater.

Mian Nadeem, who works in an office of a private company nearby, said he rushed downstairs after hearing the first explosion near al-Falah.

“Then, there were three more blasts, one after the other,” he said. “Everybody ran in frenzy. It was panic everywhere.”

Witness Sultan Ahmed said artists were rehearsing inside the second theater when the last bomb exploded.

“They all ran through the parking area near the back gate,” Ahmed said.

Meanwhile, police said at least nine people have been killed in clashes between supporters from two rival Muslim sects in northwestern Pakistan.

Police official Zarin Khan said more than a dozen other people were injured in the multiple shootings in Hangu district. The district has been the scene of sectarian violence in the past.

Khan said the latest unrest erupted on Friday and continued yesterday.

Khan didn’t say what sparked the violence but said authorities were trying to restore order.

Most of Pakistan’s majority Sunni and minority Shiites live peacefully, but extremists on both sides often target each other’s leaders.

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