Pakistan boosted security yesterday after a suspected Sunni extremist opened fire in a Shiite mosque and then blew himself up, killing 10 people and stoking fears of more attacks during a major Muslim festival over the weekend.
The strike late on Thursday in Peshawar wounded 19 people, including a prominent Shiite cleric, ahead of this weekend's Ashoura festival, which often is scarred by sectarian violence.
The blast added to tensions in Pakistan as it prepares for the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections that many predict will weaken Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf's grip on power.
Suspected militants have launched a wave of suicide attacks against security forces and politicians in recent months, killing at least 400 people including opposition leader Benazir Bhutto, a secular politician who had vowed to battle the militants.
Arshad Ali, whose brother died in Thursday's blast, said the attacker was a man about 18 years old who walked into the crowded Imambargah Qasim Baig mosque, opened fire with a pistol and then blew himself up.
"People present there tried to stop him," Ali said, wailing and beating his chest in grief. "He took out a pistol, shot three times and then blew himself up."
It was not clear whether any of the dead or wounded were hit by the gunfire.
City police chief Tanvir Sipra said the remains of the bomber had been recovered from the floor of the mosque.
Interior Ministry spokesman Javed Iqbal Cheema said "security was already tight, but it has further been beefed up across the country" as a result of the blast.
Shiite rites during the holy month of Muharram culminate this weekend with Ashoura, when tens of thousands of the minority group stage processions and beat their bare backs with chains and blades, bloodying themselves in a sign of penitence.
Sunni extremists, who regard Shiites as heretics, regularly launch attacks on the community during the month.
In 2005, about 50 people were killed when a bomb ripped through a Shiite shrine in the southwest.
In the aftermath of Thursday's attack, a crowd of enraged Shiites, crying and beating their chests, prevented an Associated Press reporter from entering. Police also had difficulty approaching the mosque. Hundreds more Shiites gathered at the hospital where the wounded were taken and chanted religious slogans.
During Muharram, Shiites mourn the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein -- an event that led to the split in Islam between the Shiite and Sunni sects.
Sunnis outnumber Shiites by about four to one in this nation of 160 million people.
In a prerecorded appearance broadcast late on Thursday on state television, Musharraf described suicide attackers as "mad" and misguided into thinking they were serving Islam.