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Pakistan mosque bombing kills police chief, officers

January 28, 2007|Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King | Special to The Times

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN — An apparent suicide bombing killed at least 13 people Saturday in this volatile frontier city, a day after a suicide attack killed a bomber and a hotel security guard in the Pakistani capital.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack in Peshawar, which came at an event marking the year's most important Shiite Muslim holiday, was an act of sectarian violence or was aimed at police and paramilitary forces guarding the event. Nearly all the dead were reported to be police officers, including the city's police chief.

Scores of people were wounded in the powerful blast, which took place near one of the city's largest mosques before the start of an evening Shiite procession to commemorate the holy day of Ashura.

Adding to the chaos, a power failure apparently caused by the explosion plunged the area into darkness. Rescuers groped in the dark, guided by the cries and moans of the injured.

Several of the wounded were reported to be in critical condition.

President Pervez Musharraf issued a statement denouncing the blast as a terrorist attack. Provincial authorities convened an emergency meeting to discuss ways to prevent further violence.

Police said they could not confirm that it had been a suicide attack, but that the dismembered condition of one of the bodies suggested that explosives had been strapped to it.

The explosion came despite extremely tight security in Peshawar's city center in connection with Ashura, which has frequently been a time of violence between Pakistan's majority Sunnis and minority Shiites. Angry Shiites poured into the streets after the attack, calling for revenge.

The attack occurred as a U.S. congressional delegation led by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) was visiting Islamabad, the capital, about 90 miles east of Peshawar. The delegation held discussions with Musharraf centering on Pakistan's role in fighting the insurgency in neighboring Afghanistan.

On Friday, a bomber carried out a rare suicide attack in Islamabad, targeting a luxury hotel frequented by diplomats and foreigners. But the attacker was prevented from entering the Marriott by a security guard, who was killed along with the bomber.

No claim of responsibility was issued for the attack, which took part in a high-security zone of the capital that is the site of many government offices.

Ashura, which is Monday or Tuesday, is the climax of a 10-day mourning period for Shiites that begins the Islamic month of Muharram.

It is a time when devout Shiites engage in fervent and emotional displays of faith, sometimes whipping them- selves with chains or swords, to commemorate the slaying of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the prophet Muhammad.

Special correspondent Ali reported from Peshawar and Times staff writer King from Kabul, Afghanistan.

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