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Homeland Security


Mosque Attack in Pakistan Claims At Least 44 Lives
VOA News
04 Jul 2003, 22:12 UTC

At least 44 people are dead in Quetta, Pakistan, where gunmen and a suicide bomber attacked the main Shi'ite Muslim mosque during Friday prayers.

At least 65 people were wounded.

The army has imposed a citywide curfew to prevent more rioting by angry Shi'ites who flooded into the streets after the attack to burn vehicles. Reports say the curfew has stranded thousands of frightened workers in private and government offices.

After the blast, police say they found and defused two bombs that had been concealed in canisters near the mosque's main wall. President Pervez Musharaff, on a state visit to France, says he will act "very strongly" against those behind the attack. France has also condemned the attack.

No one has claimed responsibility. But Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed blamed "sectarian elements," an apparent reference to outlawed extremist groups of Pakistan's Sunni Muslim majority.

The number of attackers is unclear. Mr. Ahmed said one attacker was killed by a security guard, one blew himself up and a third was turned over to police by an angry mob. Reports say he later died in a hospital.

Shi'ite Muslims in Quetta were attacked twice last month. On June second, two gunmen riding motorcycles shot dead a Shi'ite prayer leader, Syed Niaz Hussain. On June eighth, two more gunmen on motorcycles killed 11 policemen, most of them Shi'ite Muslims, by spraying their truck with automatic weapons fire.

About 80 percent of Pakistan's 140 million people are Sunni Muslims, the rest Shi'ite. Violent groups from both sects have sprung up in recent years. The Sunni-Shi'ite split in Islam goes back to a seventh Century dispute over succession of authority after the death of the Prophet Muhammed.

Some information for this report provided by AP and Reuters.

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