Pakistani minority sect demands protection after suicide attacks killed 93 members

By K.m. Chaudhry, AP
Saturday, May 29, 2010

Pakistan sect demands protection after attacks

LAHORE, Pakistan — Leaders of Pakistan’s minority Ahmadi sect demanded better government protection Saturday as they buried many of the 93 sect members killed by Islamist militants at two of the group’s mosques.

The request could test the government’s willingness to take on hard-line Islamists whose influence is behind decades of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Ahmadis in the Sunni Muslim-majority country.

The attacks occurred minutes apart Friday in two neighborhoods in the eastern city of Lahore. Two teams of gunmen, including some in suicide vests, stormed the mosques and sprayed bullets at worshippers while holding off police.

Thirteen people died overnight at hospitals, raising the death toll to 93, said Raja Ghalab Ahmad, a local sect leader. Dozens were hurt. Waseem Sayed, a U.S.-based Ahmadi spokesman, said it was the worst attack in the group’s 121-year history.

Local TV channels reported that the Pakistani Taliban, or their Punjab province branch, had claimed responsibility.

Ahmad called on the government to take action against the militant group, which also has attacked security, government and foreign targets throughout the country in recent years.

“Are we not the citizens of Pakistan?” he asked at the site of the attacks in the Garhi Shahu section of Lahore. “We do have the right to be protected, but unfortunately we were not given this protection.”

The Ahmadis are reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims for their belief that their founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, was a savior foretold by the Quran, Islam’s holy book. Many Muslims say Ahmadis are defying the basic tenet of Islam that says Muhammad is the final prophet, but Ahmadis argue that their leader was the savior rather than a prophet.

The sect originated in 1889 in Qadian, a village in British-ruled India. It spread into Muslim-majority Pakistan after British India was partitioned and now claims 160 million adherants in 180 countries, according to a spokesman, Aslam Daud.

Under pressure from Islamists, Pakistan in the 1970s declared Ahmadis a non-Muslim minority. Pakistani Ahmadis — who number between 3 million and 4 million — are prohibited from calling themselves Muslims or engaging in practices such as reciting Islamic prayers.

Mourners on Saturday began burying the victims of the attacks at a sprawling graveyard in Rabwa, a headquarters of the Ahmadi sect 90 miles (150 kilometers) northwest of Lahore. Hundreds of men, women and children wept near bodies covered with white sheets and lined up in an open area for the funeral.

In a sign of the sensitivity surrounding the group, several Pakistani leaders who condemned the attacks did not refer specifically to the Ahmadis in their statements. TV channels and newspapers avoided the word “mosque” in describing the attacked sites, preferring “places of worship.”

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said the federal government had alerted Punjab province’s administration about threats to the Ahmadi community, and that the latest warning was sent Wednesday.

Officials in Lahore, the provincial capital, said they were investigating Friday’s assaults.

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