10/02/2004, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Al-Qaeda behind Pakistani mosque attack

Sialkot (AsiaNews) – A crowd of Shiite Muslims gathered today in Sialkot, Punjab province (eastern Pakistan) for the funerals of 25 victims of yesterday's suicide bombing at the local Shiite Zainabia mosque. More than a thousand worshippers were attending Friday prayers when the bomb went off.

According to local police Chief Nisar Ahmed, eye witnesses spoke of a man entering the building with a briefcase just moments before the blast. "We are certain that it was a suicide bomber," he said. So far the tally stands at 31 dead and 75 injured.

Punjab's Chief Minister announced a compensation package that includes 100,000 rupees (US$ 1,690) for the families of each of the dead and 50,000 (US$ 845) for those of the injured.

Pakistan's Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz condemned those who attack the innocent in a place of worship. "Islam," he said, "was a religion of peace and abhorred terrorism." He urged law enforcement authorities to do their utmost to find and arrest the culprits so that they be given an "exemplary punishment".

No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack which Information Minister Sheik Rashid Ahmed called an "act of terrorism" that might be a fundamentalist "response" to the death of Amjad Husain Farooqi, al-Qaeda presumed recruiter in Pakistan, who was recently killed by Pakistani police.

For Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf the attack "clearly shows that the terrorists have no religion and are enemies of mankind".

In the meantime, army troops have been deployed across the city to re-establish law and order after some Shiites rioted in protest against the attack. Sections of a local hospital were damaged, cars burnt and shops looted.

After Musharraf chose to back the US in its war on terror, Islamic militants have attacked government and western targets in Pakistan.

The violence has not spared the Shiite community. Last May two bombs struck Shiite mosques in Karachi killing 40 people.

About 80 per cent of Pakistan's 150 million people are Sunni. Shiites are 17 per cent. Although the two communities coexist peacefully for the most part, extremists from both sides have clashed in the past. The areas most affected by inter-communal violence are Sindh, Baluchistan and Punjab.

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