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Suicide bomber kills 28 in northern Pakistan

The attack targeted the funeral procession of a Shiite leader slain a day before, sparking rioting, and points to an apparent trend of sectarian violence.

February 21, 2009|Laura King

KARACHI, PAKISTAN — A suicide bomber killed at least 28 people Friday and injured dozens more in a town near Pakistan's tribal areas, the latest in an escalating series of attacks targeting the country's Shiite Muslim minority.

The attack, aimed at a funeral procession for a Shiite Muslim leader in the town of Dera Ismail Khan, triggered a riot, with furious crowds burning shops, homes and cars. The army was called in and the town was placed under curfew.

Several of the most lethal bombings in Pakistan recently have had sectarian targets, in contrast to attacks by Islamic militants against government and military installations. Many analysts believe Pakistan's Taliban movement is fomenting sectarian violence to sow chaos and further destabilize the shaky central government.

Dera Ismail Khan is close to the border of the South Waziristan tribal agency, where both Al Qaeda and the Taliban have well-established footholds. Targeting funerals is in keeping with a grim tactic that has taken hold here in recent months. Memorial services are one of the few events for which people are still willing to gather in large numbers in public, and they provide attackers another opportunity to kill and injure those affiliated with the initial victim.

More than 1,000 people turned out to pay respects to Shiite leader Sher Zaman, who was shot by unidentified assailants a day earlier. Mourners were walking slowly toward the graveyard when the bomber struck.

Hours later, pools of blood and piles of shredded clothing could still be seen in the street.

The hours-long rioting that broke out after the bombing left two Sunni Muslims dead, according to local news reports, raising fears of reprisal killings. Some angry mourners fired weapons at police officers who rushed to the scene of the attack.

Suicide bombings in Pakistan killed more than 1,200 people last year, but sectarian attacks have lately been claiming a disproportionately large toll. Shiite mosques have been targeted twice in recent months: On Feb. 5, a man blew himself up amid worshipers in Dera Ghazi Khan, in Punjab province, killing 24 people. In December a massive car bomb in the northwestern city of Peshawar killed 29 people.

Abductions have also been on the rise, some of them targeting foreigners. The United Nations made a new appeal Friday for the release of John Solecki, an American U.N. official seized early this month in the southern city of Quetta.

Although Quetta is used as a staging ground by the Afghan Taliban, the group that claims to be holding Solecki says it is fighting for the cause of independence in Baluchistan, the impoverished province of which Quetta is the capital.

Solecki's kidnappers have threatened to kill him unless several demands relating to Baluchistan are met.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Special correspondent Zulfiqar Ali in Peshawar contributed to this report.

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