updated 3/3/2004 12:48:38 PM ET 2004-03-03T17:48:38

Beating their chests and wailing, hundreds of Shiite Muslims on Wednesday mourned the victims of a suicide attack on a religious procession in southwest Pakistan that killed 41 bystanders.

More than 160 others were wounded in Tuesday’s assault by suspected Sunni militants in Quetta, one of the deadliest in years of sectarian violence in Pakistan. Two attackers also died.

Investigators were searching for any link between Tuesday’s suicide attack and a series of coordinated blasts in Iraq . Pakistani officials declined to comment.

“It would be premature to say that Tuesday’s attack against Shiites in Quetta had any link to what happened the same day in Iraq,” Brig. Javed Iqbal Cheema, a senior Interior Ministry official, told The Associated Press.

One of the U.S. officials said there was no evidence so far indicating coordination between the attacks in Quetta with the ones in Baghdad and the holy city of Karbala.

Soldiers patrol tense city
A hallmark of al-Qaida, however, is to launch multiple attacks at the same time. The sectarian bombings in Pakistan also appeared in line with the ambitions of an al-Qaida-linked Jordanian militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who has said he aims to spark a Shiite-Sunni civil war in Iraq.

In Quetta, soldiers in armored personnel carriers patrolled a tense and grieving city. Others swept up shattered glass and debris from the blast and rioting that followed.

The carnage Tuesday began when three suspected Sunni extremists hurled grenades and fired shots into at a religious procession, then detonated explosives as police moved in. The bloodshed was on Ashoura, the day when Shiite faithful mark the death of a revered 7th-century leader by marching in black and lashing themselves in penitence.

Enraged Shiites blamed the massacre on extremist Sunni Muslim groups and rioted hours later at a Sunni mosque and shops in retaliation.

Community leaders demand punishment
As people gathered for the funeral at a mosque in southwestern Pakistan, community leaders demanded punishment for the perpetrators and insisted that authorities explain why security measures failed so badly.

Some Shiite religious leaders insisted that the death toll was high in part because police fired indiscriminately into the crowd amid the confusion.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the target of two assassination attempts by Islamic militants in December, vowed that the culprits would be arrested.

“There’s no doubt in my mind there’s an evil mind behind these attacks,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Masood Khan said. “This is the determination of the people of Pakistan: that we shall repulse all these dark designs against the state and people of Pakistan.”

A curfew declared immediately after the massacre remained in place Wednesday across this southwestern city of 1.2 million, the e capital of Baluchistan province. Army trucks mounted with machine-guns patrolled empty roads, and sharpshooters were positioned on rooftops.

Nearly 60 shops stood gutted, goods scattered outside, after rioters set fires at a market. A cinema and a bank also were ravaged in overnight arson attacks.

Shiite-Sunni clashes not uncommon
The death toll rose by one to 43 on Wednesday, according to officials at two hospitals in Quetta. Six police officers were among the dead.

Quetta is a frequent scene of Shiite-Sunni clashes. In July, attackers armed with machine guns and grenades stormed a Shiite mosque in Quetta, killing 50 people praying inside.

In Multan, a city in Pakistan’s eastern Punjab province, dozens of Shiite Muslims clashed with police on Wednesday after they were stopped from staging a protest to condemn the killings in Quetta.

Though most of Pakistan’s Sunnis and Shiites live peacefully together, small radical groups on both sides are responsible for frequent attacks. All but 3 percent of Pakistan’s people are Muslim, and Sunnis outnumber Shiites 4-to-1.

© 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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