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Bombing at Pakistan Shrine Kills 19

Protests erupt at the site, where hundreds of Sunnis and Shiites had gathered for festival.

May 29, 2005|Mubashir Zaidi | Special to The Times

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A suicide bomber attacked a Muslim shrine here as hundreds of people gathered for a religious festival, killing at least 19 and injuring more than 50.

After the blast at the Bari Imam shrine, an angry crowd clashed with police officers who were trying to clear a path for ambulances. Protesters pelted officers with stones until police used batons to disperse them.

Islamabad Police Chief Talat Mahmood confirmed that the blast had been a suicide attack but said it was unclear whether the bombing was tied to sectarian violence or another cause. Reports at the scene indicated that both Shiite and Sunni Muslims were among the devotees.

Police gathered the remains of the suspected attacker. Later in the day, they circulated a picture of the suspect that showed a bloodstained face and offered a reward of $8,300 for information leading to his identification, Reuters news service reported.

Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf condemned the attack, expressed grief over the loss of lives and appealed to people to help combat terrorism. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz announced financial help for the victims and directed authorities to provide free medical treatment and medicine for those who were hospitalized.

The blast occurred in an area that includes the high-security diplomatic enclave where embassies are located.

Meanwhile, thousands gathered in Islamabad on Friday to protest the alleged desecration of the Koran by investigators at the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The protesters, affiliated with an alliance of Islamic parties, shouted slogans against the U.S. and Musharraf, and burned U.S. flags and effigies of President Bush. They gathered outside Parliament House and urged Muslims worldwide to fight what they called the Bush administration's anti-Islam attitude.

United Action Forum chief Qazi Hussain Ahmed said former Guantanamo prisoners who had returned to Pakistan had accused U.S. soldiers of abusing the Koran to torment Muslim detainees.

On Thursday, the U.S. commander of the Guantanamo facility said a military inquiry showed that soldiers mishandled Korans on five occasions but found "no credible evidence" to back one detainee's claim that a copy of the holy book had been flushed down a toilet.

Newsweek retracted and apologized for a report this month on the toilet allegation, which triggered protests, some violent, in the Muslim world.

There were similar protests Friday in Malaysia, Bangladesh, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt, Reuters reported.

The protests in Islamabad occurred as U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christina Rocca was visiting the country and holding talks with leaders.

Rocca met with Musharraf on Thursday. According to the Pakistani Foreign Office, the president asked the U.S. government to hold an inquiry into the mishandling allegations and punish any guilty personnel.

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