Image: Injured children.
Anjum Naveed  /  AP
Children injured in a suicide bombing at the Bari Imam shrine are brought to the emergency ward of a local hospital in Islamabad, Pakistan, on Friday.
updated 5/27/2005 1:21:10 PM ET 2005-05-27T17:21:10

An apparent suicide bomb detonated Friday as hundreds of Shiite Muslims recited verses from the Quran during a religious festival at a shrine near Pakistan’s capital, killing at least 20 people and wounding dozens, witnesses said.

After the blast, hundreds of Shiite pilgrims, beating their chests in mourning, clashed with baton-wielding police, who charged the crowd to clear the way for ambulances. Some of the Shiite protesters chanted, “Down with America!”

The explosion at the Bari Imam shrine, the burial place of a historic saint on the outskirts of Islamabad, was the latest attack on a religious gathering in Pakistan, which has a long history of violent sectarian rivalry. There was no immediate claim of responsibility.

Police immediately cordoned off the shrine, which is about a half-mile from the official residence of Pakistani Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz.

President Gen. Pervez Musharraf, a key U.S. ally in the fight against al-Qaida, condemned the blast and appealed to his countrymen to “join hands against religious terrorism, sectarianism and extremism.”

At least 150 wounded
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said the bombing appeared to be a suicide attack, and at least 17 people had died. Witnesses said police collected the head of a suspected suicide bomber.

An AP photographer at the shrine counted at least 20 bodies, many of them in pieces scattered over about 50 yards, making it hard to give an exact figure. An intelligence official who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of his position said at least 20 people were killed and 150 were wounded.

“None of the bodies was intact,” said Dr. Wahid Abbas, who helped treat the wounded. “Some had legs blown off. Some had their hands blown off.”

Mukhtar Kazmi, running a free clinic at the shrine for the five-day annual festival, said it treated about 200 people.

“It was like hell,” said worshipper Syed Muktar Hussain Shah, 40. “I fell down ... when I woke up I saw dead bodies around me.”

Maj. Tubassam Zaheer, a bomb disposal expert, said his team was collecting body parts and clothes of the victims to help determine what type of explosives were used in the attack.

Bomber dressed as police officer?
Ali Ahmad, an injured worshipper, said he had saw a man dressed in a police uniform who appeared to be the bomber walk inside as worshippers recited verses from the Quran. Police tried to stop the man but failed, he said.

However, another witness, S.M. Shirazi, gave a different account. He said two bearded men he believed were the bombers entered the gathering and sat near a podium at the front. There was an explosion and the body of one of them flew in the air, he said. He did not know what happened to the second man.

Witness Shabbir Hussain said there was panic after the blast.

“I saw pieces of dead bodies, lots of dust in the air. Then I heard people crying and people wailing and I left because we feared a series of bombs. People were shouting, ’Leave the place! There might be another explosion!”’

Hours after the bombing, thousands of supporters of hardline Islamic groups attended previously planned rallies in Islamabad and other cities to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Centuries-old divide
Sectarian attacks by Sunni and minority Shiites are common in this Islamic country. The schism between the two sects dates back to a 7th-century dispute over who was the true heir to the Prophet Mohammed.

In February, gunmen opened fire on mourners returning from a funeral near the shrine, sparking a firefight that killed three people and injured several others. That violence, however, was believed linked to a feud between two families over control of the shrine.

The last major attack against a religious gathering was on March 19, when suspected Islamic militants bombed a festival for a Shiite saint at a village shrine in southwestern Baluchistan province, killing at least 46 people.

In October, a car bombing at a gathering of Sunni radicals in the central city of Multan killed 40 people. Six days earlier, a suicide bombing at a Shiite mosque killed 31 people in the eastern city of Sialkot.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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