Suicide attack kills 13 as Red Mosque reopens
Filed Under: World | Posted: 07/27/2007 at 8:30AM
Comments | Region: Pakistan
Islamabad– Another suicide bomber killed 13 people, including eight policemen, and injured 52 people at a hotel near Islamabad’s Red Mosque on Friday as the government reopened the religious complex for the first time since a bloody army raid to oust Islamic militants from the site.
Hundreds of students clashed with security forces outside the mosque, denouncing President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and demanding the return of a pro-Taliban cleric who was detained during the siege earlier this month.
The suspected bomber struck the Muzaffar Hotel, in a busy market area about a quarter mile from the mosque. Scores of victims – many of them bleeding or badly burned, with their clothing in tatters, were seen being carried from the wreckage to waiting ambulances. The hotel was crowded with the Punjab Police constables who had gathered there to for lunch when the explosion stuck. Burned pieces of uniform, blood stained cloth, body parts and personal belongings of the victims were seen lying on the spot and its half-mile radius.
Javed Iqbal Cheemar, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, confirmed the deaths of 11 people, including seven police, and 43 wounded. Interior secretary Kamal Shah said that initial reports suggested it was a suicide attack targeting police. He said that no claim has been made by any entity, but Islamic militants will be suspected. This is the latest in a series of attacks in Pakistan since the July 3 army raid at the mosque which left 102 people dead according to official reports, with unofficial reports reporting deaths of over 500 students from the military operation.
The bombing came soon after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters who called for hard-line cleric Abdul Aziz to lead prayers at the mosque. The demonstrators threw stones at an armored personnel carrier and dozens of police in riot gear on a road outside the mosque. After the demonstrators disregarded calls to disperse peacefully, police fired tear gas, scattering the crowd.
Over mosque loudspeakers, protesters vowed to "take revenge for the blood of martyrs" and raised slogans against Musharraf. The students also tried to paint the mosque red by bringing in paint buckets and ladders.
They forced a government-appointed cleric to retreat, and a cleric from a seminary associated with the mosque eventually led the prayers.
Some of the students lingered over the ruins of a neighboring girls’ seminary that was demolished by authorities this week. Militants had used the seminary to resist government forces involved in the siege.
Friday’s reopening was meant to help cool anger over the siege, which triggered a flare-up in militant attacks on security forces across Pakistan, leaving more than 250 security personnel dead and several injured in NWFP region since the final day of assault on Red Mosque on July 10. The mosque’s clerics had used thousands of its students in an aggressive campaign to impose Taliban-style Islamic law in the capital. The campaign, which included kidnapping alleged Chinese prostitutes and threatening suicide attacks to defend the fortified mosque, raised concern about the spread of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.
Militants holed up in the mosque compound for a week before government troops launched their assault, leaving it pocked with bullet holes and damaged by explosions. Friday’s crowd shouted support for the mosque’s former deputy cleric, Abdul Rashid Ghazi, who led the siege until he was shot and killed by security forces after refusing to surrender. Ghazi was the public face of a vigilante, Islamic anti-vice campaign that had challenged the government’s writ in the Pakistani capital. "Ghazi, your blood will lead to a revolution," the protesters chanted.