Pakistan militants kill 35 despite floods
LAHORE, Pakistan (AP) – The triple bombing of a religious procession in Pakistan adds to the strains on a government already struggling with devastating floods and shows that Islamist militants are back in business despite the natural disaster.
The death toll in the blasts rose to 35 on Thursday, with about 250 injured, government official Sajjad Bhutta said.
The bombs late Wednesday ripped through a Shiite Muslim street procession in the sprawling city of Lahore, which has been frequently targeted by Sunni extremists over the last two years, often in coordinated attacks on religious minorities.
Sunni extremists have launched dozens of attacks against Shiites and other Islamic sects and religions in Pakistan in recent years. The extremists believe it is permissible – even honorable – to kill members of other faiths.
Allied with al-Qaida and the Taliban, the militants are also seeking to destabilize Pakistan’s U.S.-backed government through such attacks. They have created sanctuaries in the rugged northwest close to the Afghan border where they plan and train.
The bombings were the first major attack in Pakistan since floods ripped through much of the country more than a month ago, leaving more than 8 million people in need of emergency assistance and prompting a major international relief effort that is still ongoing.
“While the whole nation is distressed with the sufferings of flood affectees, these terrorists are involved in promoting their own agenda,” Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani said in a statement condemning the blasts.
The bombs hit three separate sites as 35,000 Shiites marched through the streets of Lahore in a traditional mourning procession for the caliph Ali, one of Shiite Islam’s most respected holy men.
The first blast was a smallish time bomb that exploded in the street near a well-known Shiite building.
Minutes later, a young-looking suicide bomber tried to force his way into an area where food was being prepared for the marchers to break the traditional Ramadan fast and blew himself up, said senior police officer Zulfiqar Hameed. Soon after, another suicide bomber detonated himself at an intersection near the end of the procession.
Senior Shiite leader Agha Syed Hamid Ali Shah Moosavi demanded more protection, but said his community would never stop organizing yearly processions for Ali.
“We can sacrifice our life, but can not allow mourning processions to end,” he said.
Pakistan was slow to recognize what army officers now say is the existential threat Islamist militants pose to the state. But over the last two years and amid heavy U.S. pressure, the army has been fighting the insurgents in different parts of the northwest.
They have had some success, but the militants have proved a resilient enemy.
Pakistan army jets and helicopters targeted militant hide-outs in two border regions on Tuesday and Wednesday, killing 60 people identified as insurgents or their family members, including children, said security officials and a witness.
There was no independent confirmation of the casualties because the area is too dangerous for outsiders to visit.
The raids Tuesday took place in several villages in Teerah Valley in the Khyber region and killed 45 people, the officials said. One official said some vehicles rigged with explosives had also been destroyed. He could not say how many.
Associated Press Writers Hussain Afzal in Parachinar and Riaz Khan in Peshawar contributed to this report.