Suicide bombers strike Pakistan mosque, seminary
LAHORE, Pakistan – Suicide bombers attacked a mosque and a religious school within minutes Friday in two Pakistani cities, killing at least five people including a prominent Muslim cleric who had recently condemned the Taliban, officials said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for either blast.
Pakistan has been rocked by a wave of suicide bombings and other attacks in recent weeks blamed on militants taking revenge for a military operation against the Taliban in the northwest Swat Valley region.
In the country’s east, an assailant went into the offices of the well-known Jamia Naeemia seminary in the heart of Lahore shortly after the end of traditional Friday prayers and detonated a bomb, police official Sohail Sukhera said. Two people died and six were wounded.
The seminary’s founder, Sarfraz Naeemi, was the apparent target and died on his way to a hospital, said his son, Waqar.
The building housing the seminary offices collapsed.
“I was still in the mosque when I heard a big bang. We rushed toward the office and there was a smell of explosives in the air. There was blood and several people were crying in pain,” Waqar said.
Geo TV showed Naeemi’s body lying on a stretcher, his beard and hair covered in dust and blood stains around his nostrils.
Naeemi had recently condemned a string of attacks blamed on militants and backed the ongoing military operation against the Taliban in Swat. His brother Mohammad Tajwar said the cleric had recently received death threats.
Punjab provincial police chief Tariq Saleem Dogar denounced the seminary attack as un-Islamic.
“It could not be an act of a Muslim to carry out an attack in a mosque,” he told reporters.
The second attack occurred around the same time in Noshehra city in the volatile northwest near Swat and the lawless tribal belt along Afghanistan where al-Qaida and the Taliban have strongholds.
Attackers rammed a pickup truck loaded with explosives into the wall of a mosque in an area of the city used to house military officials, police official Aziz Khan said.
At least three people were killed and more than 100 wounded, with others possibly trapped in the rubble, Khan said.
“We fear that there could be more deaths. We are waiting for the equipment to remove the debris,” he said.
Violence has risen sharply across Pakistan after the Taliban vowed a campaign of bombings in retaliation for the Swat offensive. The military has also stepped up attacks on suspected militant strongholds in the northwest.
Washington strongly backs the Swat operation, which is widely viewed as a test of Pakistan’s resolve to confront militancy after years of deals and policies that have been criticized as being too soft on Islamist extremists who have become entrenched in the northwest.
Elsewhere Friday, gunmen in Peshawar attacked the home of Lt. Gen. Masood Aslam, the army commander of the Swat offensive, prompting a battle with guards that killed two militants; and military jets began bombarding suspected militant strongholds in the tribal region of Bajur. Casualties were not immediately known there.
In another tribal region, Hangu, suspected militants detonated a roadside bomb that killed the regional police chief and four other officers, said Farid Khan, a police official.
In Peshawar late Thursday, one officer was killed and a dozen other people were wounded when assailants threw a grenade at a police checkpoint. When police rushed to respond, a suicide bomber ran forward and blew himself up, said police Superintendent Nisar Marwad.
More than 60 people have died in the wave of attacks across Pakistan since May 27.
Officials in Washington say privately they would like to see the Swat operation extended to include the North and South Waziristan tribal areas, where al-Qaida and Taliban militants are believed to have bases to foment violence against American troops in Afghanistan.
Pakistan has not announced plans for a new offensive in the tribal belt, and may first want to finish the Swat operation and deal with the huge humanitarian crisis it spawned. More than 2 million people have been uprooted from their homes by the fighting, and about 200,000 are living in refugee camps.
But fighting has spilled out of Swat in the past week as militants stepped up attacks on security forces and the army has replied with artillery, gunships and assault forces in some areas.
- Posted in: Islamabad
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