Blast kills 30 at Pakistan funeral

February 20, 2009 12:00 am

, PESHAWAR, Feb 20 – A suicide bomber attacked a funeral procession for an assassinated local Shiite Muslim leader in northwest Pakistan on Friday, killing 30 people and putting furious mobs on the rampage.

The explosion took place near a Shiite mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, a town on the edge of Pakistan’s restive tribal areas with a history of sectarian violence, which has been on the rise in the Sunni-majority country.

"Thirty people have died and 65 are injured," Saadullah Khan, a police official in the town, told AFP by telephone.

Hospital and police officials earlier put the death toll at 20, with dozens of others wounded. Police said the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.

Soldiers were ordered to deploy and a curfew enforced after intense volleys of gunfire from panicked mourners at the funeral for the late Sher Zaman degenerated into angry riots.

The attack came two weeks after 35 people died in a suspected suicide bombing against Shiite worshippers in the Punjab town of Dera Ghazi Khan on February 5 in one of the country’s deadliest sectarian attacks.

Around 90 people have been killed in suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan so far this year and more than 1,600 since government forces besieged militants holed up in a radical mosque in Islamabad in July 2007.

Much of the violence has been concentrated in northwest Pakistan, where the army has been bogged down fighting Taliban hardliners and Al-Qaeda extremists, who fled there after the 2001 US-led invasion of neighbouring Afghanistan.

In Dera Ismail Khan, mobs pumped bullets into the air, pelted stones at cars, ransacked shops, torched buses and set up road blocks with burning tyres in the dusty, low-rise town, residents told AFP by telephone from the town.

"A curfew has been imposed in the city," district administration chief Syed Mohsin Shah told AFP.

"The military has been called in to support police for restoration of law and order," he said.

Zaman, the local Shiite activist who was being buried on Friday, was shot dead by unknown gunmen riding on the back of a motorbike in a busy Dera Ismail Khan market on Thursday, a local police official said.

He had been a prominent member of the town’s Shiite community and organised community gatherings, police said.

Previously, an explosion ripped through a Sunni Muslim mosque on February 3, killing one person and wounding 18 others in Dera Ismail KHan.

Shiites account for about 20 percent of Pakistan’s 160-million-strong population.

The fellow Muslims usually coexist peacefully but sectarian violence has killed more than 4,000 people across Pakistan since the late 1980s.


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