31 die in Sialkot mosque blast
* Army called in to keep order as angry mobs rampage city
By Saleem Sheikhu and Shahnawaz Khan
SIALKOT: A probable suicide bombing killed at least 31 worshippers and injured 75 others at a Shia mosque during the Friday prayers.
More than 1,000 Shias were crowded into the Zainabia mosque, just a kilometre away from the city police station on Raja Road, when the blast ripped through the building at 1:27pm, police said.
Fourteen people were killed instantly, police said, while many died of wounds in or on way to hospital. Ghulam Shabbir, a guard at the mosque, told Daily Times that he saw a man enter the premises with a brief case in his hand. He said he wanted to stop him. “But the bomb detonated seconds after I decided to go after him… as he walked briskly toward the imam.” Police said it was possible, but did not confirm it was a suicide attack.
“We were hearing the Khutba (sermon) when suddenly there was a big bang,” said worshipper Hamid Naqvi. “There was panic and there was blood and screams all around,” he said.
The explosion made a crater more than 60 cm (2 feet) deep near the fifth row of worshippers, said GEO Television channel. Pieces of broken metal, glass, destroyed wall-plaster and human body parts were stuck all over the ground floor of the two-storey mosque.
Witnesses narrated gory scenes inside the mosque with pieces of human flesh and limbs lying around in pools of blood.
“People were crying and beating their chests.”
The army was called in to keep order after angry mobs reacted with a rampage, setting ablaze a gas station and two police vehicles to protest the blast. They also pelted stones at police parties after initially trying to stop the police from entering the scene of the explosion.
Sialkot’s local government declared emergency and the Interior Ministry sent security forces all over the country on a high alert as authorities found and neutralised another powerful (6.5-kg) explosive just outside the same mosque. There were tight security arrangements in the entire city afterwards. Trade organisations announced a complete strike across the city against the killings.
Police sources said eight suspects had been rounded up and army and police had cordoned off the mosque.
No group has claimed responsibility, however the federal information minister has hinted at the possibility of retaliation for last week’s operation in which Amjad Farooqi, a suspected Al Qaeda operative, was killed by security agencies. Regarded as the main link between Osama Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda and local militant groups, Farooqi was a key suspect in two assassination attempts on President Pervez Musharraf last December.
Karachi was put on alert against a possible terror attack this week after the slaying of Farooqi, a known leader of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a splinter faction of another outlawed group, Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan. Both groups are blamed by police for many of the killings of Shia Muslims in recent years.
Farooqi was also wanted in connection with the kidnapping and murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002. Former AJK Deputy Speaker and a leader of AJK Pakistan Peoples Party Syed Shaukat Hussain and former president of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ghazanfar Ali Shabbir were among dead.