10/07/2004, 00.00
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Blasts kill 39 people at Sunni gathering in Multan

Attack comes on the anniversary of the death of a Sunni religious leader.

Multan (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At dawn this morning, two bombs exploded in Multan (central Pakistan) killing at least 39 people and injuring another 100. The victims were among the 3,000 or so Sunni Muslims who had gathered overnight in one of the city's residential neighbourhood to commemorate the anniversary of the death of radical Sunni leader Azam Tariq, killed in an attack near Islamabad last year. People were starting to leave when a car bomb went off followed soon after by a second one attached to a motorcycle.

It is not clear who is behind the attack. So far no one has claimed responsibility. But police suspects that minority Shiite extremists might be involved.

Last October 2, a suicide attacker killed 31 people wounding another 75 in the Masjid-e-Zainabia, a Shiite mosque in the city of Sialkot.

Arshad Hameed, deputy city police chief in Multan, said "It seems to be an act of sectarian terrorism, but we are still investigating". According to Multan's police Chief Sikander Hayyat, it was not likely a suicide attack "since no body parts were found inside the car". Pakistan's Information Minister condemned the attack which he called "a brutal act of terrorism designed to destabilise the country".

Witnesses said that about 2,000 Sunnis gathered outside the Nishtar hospital where some of the wounded were taken shouting "Shiites are infidels!"

Police stepped up security in the city, which has suffered from sectarian violence in the past.

Sunni leader Azam Tariq was a member of Pakistan's National Assembly. He and four other people were killed in an attack in one of the capital's suburbs. His organisation –Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan– was one of seven Islamic extremist groups banned by Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf.  

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