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Monday, April 19, 2010

Bomber Strikes Rally of Religious Party in Pakistan

New York Times article
Published: April 19, 2010

ISLAMABAD — A teenage suicide bomber waded into a political rally by an Islamic party and detonated his explosives Monday, a police officer said.

The bomb, which went off in Peshawar, a northwestern city that was tormented by bombings last year, killed more than 20 people, including a party leader of Jamaat-e-Islami, a hard-line political party that, until recently, had publicly supported the Taliban. A police officer was also among the dead.

Television footage showed a frenzied scene of Islamic-capped youths from the protest helping people onto stretchers. No one has claimed responsibility.

It was unclear if the target was the rally, or the police station nearby. A bomb disposal official said the young bomber was wearing as much as 15 pounds of explosives.

If the target was the rally, it would be highly unusual. Jamaat-e-Islami is Pakistan’s oldest Islamic political party, and its hard-line language sometimes echoes that of the Taliban: anti-West, anti-India and strongly against Pakistan’s tiny religious minorities — Christians, Shiites and an Islamic sect called Ahmedis. But the party is also part of Pakistan’s state establishment, and critical of any direct attack on Pakistan’s army or its people.

A senior police officer in Peshawar, Kareem Khan, said the police officer who was killed, Gulfat Hussain, was a Shiite. Members of the sect have been repeated targets since late last week in violent attacks around western Pakistan.

Mr. Hussain had been active in protecting Shiite processions, whose marches to holy sites often draw militant attacks, Officer Khan said. Al Qaeda is virulently anti-Shiite. Sectarian militancy is so prevalent that Shiite police officers sometimes ask not to be posted in the field, out of fear that they will be targets because of their sect.

It was the second bomb on Monday. The first exploded just seven hours before near a school, killing one student and wounding 10, the authorities said.

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