Pakistan bombing kills nine at rally

IN GOD’S NAME::In southern Pakistan, a mob raided a police station, captured a man who was said to have burned a copy of the Koran and beat him to death

AP, PESHAWAR, Pakistan

Mon, Dec 24, 2012 - Page 4

A suicide bomber in Pakistan killed nine people, including a provincial government official, at a political rally held on Saturday by a party that has opposed the Taliban, officials said.

The rally in Peshawar, the capital of northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, was held by the Awami National Party, whose members have been repeatedly targeted by the Taliban.

Among the dead was Bashir Bilour, the second most senior member of the provincial Cabinet, said Ghulam Ahmed Bilour, the politician’s brother and federal railways minister.

More than 20 others were wounded by the blast, local police officer Sabir Khan said.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the bombing in a statement, reiterating the UN’s support for Pakistani efforts “to combat the scourge of terrorism.”

Bilour was leaving the rally after delivering the keynote speech when the attack occurred, said Nazir Khan, a local Awami National Party leader.

“There was smoke and dust all around, and dead and wounded people were lying on the ground,” he said.

The suicide bomber was on foot, another police officer, Imtiaz Khan, said.

Mian Iftikhar Hussain, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa information minister and a member of the Awami National Party, said both he and Bilour had repeatedly received threats from militants.

He condemned the attack and said the government needed to intensify its battle against the Taliban.

“Terrorism has engulfed our whole society,” Hussain said. “They are targeting our bases, our mosques, our bazars, public meetings and our security checkpoints.”

Ten Taliban militants attacked the military area of an international airport in Peshawar with rockets and car bombs a week ago, killing four people and wounding more than 40 others.

Five of the militants were killed during the attack and five others died the next day in a gunbattle with security forces.

Also on Saturday, police said a mob in southern Pakistan stormed a police station to seize a mentally unstable Muslim man accused of burning a copy of Islam’s holy book. The crowd beat him to death and then set fire to his body.

The case is likely to raise further concerns about the country’s harsh blasphemy laws, which can result in a death sentence or life in prison to anyone found guilty.

An accusation or investigation alone can lead to deaths, as people take the law into their own hands and kill those accused of violating it. Police stations and even courts have been attacked by mobs.

Police arrested the man on Friday after being informed by residents that he had burned a Koran inside a mosque where he had been staying for a night, local police official Biharud Deen said.

An angry mob of more than 200 people then broke into the police station in the southern town of Dadu and took the accused man, who they say was under questioning.

Deen said police tried their best to save the man’s life, but were unable to stop the furious crowd.

Police have arrested 30 people for suspected involvement in the attack, Deen said.

The head of the local police station and seven officers had been suspended, he said.

Past attempts by governments in predominantly Muslim Pakistan to review these laws have met with violent opposition from hardline Islamist parties.

In southwestern Pakistan, gunmen late on Friday killed 11 Pakistanis and Afghans who were trying to cross into neighboring Iran to travel on to Europe as illegal immigrants, local government official Zubair Ahmed said.

The shooting took place in Sunsar town in Baluchistan Province, he said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack, but hundreds of Pakistanis and Afghans are captured by Iranian border guards every year for illegally trying to travel to Europe to find better jobs.