Friday, 28 May 2010

Pakistan mosque attacks in Lahore kill dozens

Pakistan mosque attacks in Lahore kill dozens

Page last updated at 13:49 GMT, Friday, 28 May 2010 14:49 UK

Eyewitness Nadeem Khalifa describes the scenes inside one of the mosques

Gunmen have attacked two mosques of the minority Ahmadi Islamic sect in the Pakistani city of Lahore, killing at least 70 people, officials say.

The death toll has been rising as rescuers pull bodies from the mosques, which were packed for Friday midday prayers at the time of the attacks.

Police are reported to have secured one of the buildings, while operations continue at the second.

Lahore has been the scene of a string of brazen militant attacks.

No-one has yet said they carried out the attacks but suspicion has fallen on the Pakistani Taliban, Ali Dayan Hassan of Human Rights Watch told the BBC.

Mr Hassan said the worshippers were "easy targets" for militant Sunni groups who consider the Ahmadis to be infidels.
'Indiscriminate' firing

It is unclear whether gunmen are still holding people hostage inside the mosque in the heavily built-up Garhi Shahu area, the BBC's Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.
Continue reading the main story Rescuers remove a body from a mosque in Lahore, 28 May Eyewitness: Mosque attack

It appears that most of the worshippers have managed to get out, our correspondent says.

But officials say the toll at Garhi Shahu is likely to be higher because the attackers blew themselves up with suicide vests when police tried to enter the building.

Police said they had taken control of the other mosque in the nearby Model Town area after a two-hour gunfight.

One militant was killed and two others were arrested, police said.

A dozen ambulances have taken the dead and injured to hospitals.

Eyewitnesses told the BBC the gunmen launched simultaneous attacks on the two mosques.

A number of gunmen were reported to have opened fire indiscriminately in the Model Town mosque.
Continue reading the main story

    * A minority Islamic sect founded in 1889, Ahmadis believe their own founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908, was a prophet
    * This is anathema to most Muslims who believe the last prophet was Muhammad, who died in 632
    * Most Ahmadi followers live in the Indian subcontinent
    * Ahmadis have been the subject of sectarian attacks and persecution in Pakistan and elsewhere
    * In 1974 the Pakistani government declared the sect non-Muslim

Who are the Ahmadis?

They were said to be armed with AK-47 rifles, shotguns, grenades and possibly other explosive devices.

TV footage showed one attacker atop a minaret, firing an assault rifle and throwing grenades as police engaged in a fierce gunfight with militants below.

The attacks come after at least 45 people were killed in March when two suicide bombers attacked a crowded residential area.

Sectarian attacks have been carried out by various militant groups in Punjab province, and across Pakistan in the past.

While the Ahmadis consider themselves Muslim and follow all Islamic rituals, they were declared non-Muslim in Pakistan in 1973, and in 1984 they were legally barred from proselytising or identifying themselves as Muslims.

Members of the community have often been mobbed, or gunned down in targeted attacks, says the BBC's M Ilyas Khan in Islamabad.

But this is the first time their places of worship have suffered daring and well-coordinated attacks that bear the mark of Taliban militants, our correspondent adds.

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