8 killed at Shi’ite gathering in Kashmir

Associated Press / December 28, 2009

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ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A suicide bomber targeted a large gathering of Shi’ite Muslims in the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir yesterday, killing eight people and wounding 80, a rare sectarian attack in an area police said has little history of militant violence.

Muslim militants have fought for decades to free Kashmir, which is split between India and Pakistan and claimed by both, from New Delhi’s rule. But while Muzaffarabad has served as a base for anti-India insurgents to train and launch attacks, the capital and most of the Pakistani side have largely been spared any violence, as militants have focused their firepower across the frontier in the Indian-controlled portion, police officer Sardar Ilyas said.

The suicide bomber detonated his explosives as police tried to search him at a checkpoint outside a commemoration of the seventh century death of the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson. The gathering attracted about 1,000 people, said police officer Tahir Qayum. The eight killed included three police, he said.

Most of the 80 injured were Shi’ites participating in the tribute, held every year during the holy month of Muharram, said Ilyas. Ten of the wounded are in critical condition, he said.

During another Shi’ite gathering in the southern port city of Karachi, an explosion wounded 30 people, but authorities determined the blast was caused by gas that had accumulated in a sewer line, said police chief Waseem Ahmad. Shi’ites later held a protest on the road and torched three vehicles, he said.

The bombing in Muzaffarabad highlights the growing extremism of militants in Pakistani Kashmir. Many of the armed groups in the region were started with support from Islamabad.

But some of them have turned against their former patrons and joined forces with the Taliban because the government has reduced its support under US pressure.