Attackers Hit Mosques of Islamic Sect in Pakistan

Gunmen and suicide bombers stormed two mosques belonging to a minority sect during Friday Prayer in Lahore, seizing hostages and killing at least 70 worshipers and wounding 78, the city coordinating officer said.

More than three hours after the attacks began, the police took control of the mosques, where they found bodies strewn across the main floors and verandas, the coordinating officer, Sajjad Dhutta, said.

At one of the mosques dozens of men survived by scurrying down a narrow passage and then hiding in the basement as the ordeal unfolded, said Abdul Salam Arshad, 56, a retired civil servant who was in the mosque and emerged unscathed.

“Suddenly at the start of the sermon, six or seven people came in,” Mr. Arshad said. “Some threw grenades and entered the main hall shooting. We could hear it going on above us.”

The attacks, which took place within minutes of each other at the mosques located a few miles apart, were clearly aimed at the Ahmadi community, which considers itself Muslim but is severely discriminated against under Pakistani law. Pakistan does not recognize the Ahmadi sect as part of Islam.

Geo TV, a leading news channel in Pakistan, reported that members of the Punjab branch of the Pakistani Taliban were claiming responsibility for the attacks. The Punjab branch is composed mainly of formerly state-sponsored sectarian groups, including Lashkar-e-Jangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammed, which have joined forces with the Taliban.

Another survivor, Munawar Shahid, an official of the Ahmadi community, hid in his office next to the mosque during the attack.

“Everybody is trying to save their life,” Mr. Shahid said on his cellphone as gunfire rattled around him.

One mosque is located near the city’s main rail station; the other, a three-story flat-roofed building, is in Model Town, an upscale neighborhood, and can hold about 4,000 worshipers, according to Habiba Nosheen, a journalist who has prayed there.

Eyewitnesses outside the mosque near the rail station said they could see three attackers. One of them clambered up to the minaret and shot down at police officers, who fired back, they said. Two other attackers blew themselves up in the main hall, said Shahbaz Ahmad, who watched the standoff.

The assaults were almost certainly orchestrated by Islamic extremists who had issued harsh threats against the Ahmadi sect for the past two years, said I. A. Rehman, the executive director of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

“These extremists are not tolerating any other community, including Ahmadis, and it seems the government has failed to control them,” Mr. Rehman said.

The State Department report on Human Rights said this year that the estimated two million Ahmadis were forbidden by law from engaging in Muslim practices. The report said 11 Ahmadis were killed last year in Pakistan because of their faith.

Live broadcasts of the attacks in Lahore were notable Friday for omitting that Ahmadis consider themselves Muslims. Reporters and commentators rarely referred to the Ahmadis by name, preferring instead the phrase “minority community.”
Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/29/world/asia/29pstan.html