Pakistan Detains 17 Men Linked to Bombing
QUETTA, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani police detained 17 men for questioning in connection with a massacre of 44 Shiite Muslims at a mosque in this southwest Pakistani town across the border from Afghanistan, authorities said Sunday.
Police, who raided homes in southwestern Pakistan, refused to identify the men or their nationality or give details about the operation.
Pakistani authorities raised the possibility Saturday that Taliban fugitives and their al-Qaida allies carried out the attack Friday. It was the first use of a suicide bomber in Pakistan’s bitter sectarian conflict between extremist Shiite and Sunni Muslims.
The blast also killed four attackers.
``We are carrying out raids. We are picking up people. So far we have 17 people in custody,″ Quetta deputy police chief Humayun Jogezai said. ``They are being investigated.″
The bombing came a few weeks after a former Taliban military commander said the ousted Sunni Muslim movement would begin using suicide squads against its foes.
President Pervez Musharraf said Saturday the attackers could have come from outside Pakistan, adding ``if there is any external hand in this incident, we will find out.″
Shiite Muslims beat their chests and wailed at a mass funeral for victims, who included four children ranging from 5 to 11 years old.
Officials said three attackers were killed, one when he blew himself up in the mosque and two others from shots exchanged with security guards. About 2,000 people were in the mosque at the time. A fourth died later at a hospital.
Some of the Shiite Muslims in Quetta, in Baluchistan province, are ethnic Hazaras, the same ethnic group that dominates Afghanistan’s Shiite Muslim population. The Taliban and the Hazaras have long been enemies, and each side accuses the others of massacres during the 1990s.
Shiite Muslims account for about a third of Quetta’s of 1.2 million people. The rest are mostly Sunni Muslims, like the overwhelming majority of Pakistanis.
Friday’s attack, the third in the past month against Hazara Muslims in Quetta, sent enraged Shiites on a rampage through the city. The government called in troops and imposed a curfew to try to quell the violence.
The curfew has been relaxed and on Sunday residents were allowed out of their homes for several hours during the day.
In Karachi, another city in southern Pakistan with a history of sectarian strife, a Shiite Muslim cleric on Saturday threatened to call demonstrations nationwide unless those responsible for the attack are arrested.
There have been no claims of responsibility, and the dead have not been identified. But Shiite Muslim leaders said Saturday the attackers were not Pakistani.
``The criminals whose bodies are lying in the hospital are not locals,″ said Syed Ashraf Zaidi, president of Baluchistan Shiite Conference. ``They are members of al-Qaida. Go and see their faces.″
Separately, police raided two houses in Lahore on Saturday, arresting five suspected Islamic militants.
The suspects included Maulvi Allah Wasaya, a leader of outlawed Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, which authorities have blamed for the murder of hundreds of minority Shiite Muslims in Pakistan. It was not clear if the arrests were connected with Friday’s massacre.
Allama Mahdi Najafi, a Shiite cleric who was leading prayers in the mosque at the time of the attack, said terrorists ``who received training in Afghanistan″ during Taliban rule ``were behind the attack on our mosque.″
The Taliban were overthrown by a U.S.-led war in 2001 for providing haven to al-Qaida, Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.
Last month, pamphlets threatening Taliban suicide squads surfaced in Spinboldak, an Afghan town across the border from Quetta. They were signed by Mullah Akhtar Usmani, formerly the Taliban military commander.
``We will very soon start suicide attacks as the Arab mujahedeen are doing. The Taliban mujahedeen are being ordered to carry out suicide attacks,″ the pamphlet said.
Taliban sympathizers in Pakistan were outraged by Musharraf’s support for the U.S.-led coalition’s war in neighboring Afghanistan.
In last October’s general elections in Pakistan, pro-Taliban religious parties won big in Baluchistan province and in neighboring North West Frontier Province __ two key provinces in the war on terror.
Here the United States and the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai worry that fugitive Taliban and al-Qaida have received sanctuary from like-minded allies.
Both Baluchistan and North West Frontier Province are deeply conservative and inhabited by ethnic Pashtuns, the same ethnic group that dominated Afghanistan’s Taliban movement.
Hours after Friday’s blast, police found two bombs in tin canisters near the main wall of the mosque. Both bombs were defused by bomb disposal experts, an intelligence official and police sources said in Quetta. It was unclear how long the bombs had been there, police official Abdul Hai said.