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Bombs Kill 2 Islamic Militants

November 4, 1999

MURIDKE, Pakistan (AP) _ Three bombs exploded Thursday outside a vast tent village where an estimated 300,000 followers of a militant Islamic group gathered to praise holy wars and to condemn India and the United States.

The bombs went off in rapid succession near the gathering of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba _ one of the most militant Islamic groups _ killing two people and injuring at least 23 others, police and eyewitnesses said. Two of the wounded were in critical condition.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and a police investigation was underway.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are fighting India for control of its portion of Kashmir. Both India and Pakistan lay claim to a united Kashmir, which was divided between the two uneasy neighbors after British rule of the subcontinent in 1947.

The first bomb went off outside a small hotel and the second and third exploded nearby within minutes. Bomb disposal units found a fourth bomb that was defused, police said.

Security at the site of the three-day affair has been tight, with dozens of men checking for possible explosives. The militants blamed an explosion at a similar gathering last year on Indian security agents.

``This is a conspiracy against the freedom fighters,″ a conference leader said over the loudspeakers.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba fighters were among those who took control of Indian territory this summer. The resulting border dispute between India and Pakistan threatened to escalate into an all-out war but ended after Pakistan’s then-premier, Nawaz Sharif, orchestrated the withdrawal of the militants from the Indian-ruled areas. Sharif was later deposed in a military takeover on Oct. 12.

``He betrayed Kashmir and Kashmiri freedom fighters,″ Qasi Abdul Wahid Kashmiri told followers Thursday.

He praised the coup as having saved militant groups. Two days before the army takeover, Sharif’s interior minister said Pakistan planned to crack down on such groups.

An estimated 300,000 followers knelt simultaneously in prayer as loudspeakers blared verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, throughout the tent village at Muridke, roughly 15 miles from the Punjab provincial capital of Lahore.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, under consideration by the United States to be declared a terrorist organization, openly seeks recruits men to fight India in Kashmir.

At Thursday’s gathering, attended by all-male followers from Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, people were asked to contribute 10 rupees, the equivalent of two cents, toward the war against India saying the donation would cover the cost of one bullet.

``Your 10 rupees could mean the death of one Indian soldier,″ said Jamil-ur-Rehman, who was collecting money.

Pakistan’s Army ruler Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf is considered a moderate on domestic policies, but hawkish on India. It is believed that he orchestrated the occupation of Indian territory in Kashmir last summer that led to a fierce border dispute between the world’s two newest nuclear states.

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