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Pakistan boosts security after suicide attack near Shiite mosque

Pakistan boosts security after suicide attack near Shiite mosque

Hundreds of police secured a religious procession through Pakistan's northwestern city of Peshawar on Monday, two days after a suicide bomber killed 15 people near a similar Shiite Muslim gathering and heightened fears of sectarian violence.
Intelligence officials, meanwhile, said they had detained six men suspected of planning suicide attacks againsts Shiites, though the government was unable to confirm the arrests.
Police and paramilitary troops set up road blocks and frisked everyone approaching the Imambargah Hussainia mosque, where the procession of some 2,000 people began. Sharpshooters watched from the roofs of nearby buildings.
"Security is tight and all the entry points are under strict watch," said Abdul Majeed Marwat, who was appointed city police chief after his predecessor was killed in Saturday's bombing.
The processions are part of the Ashoura festival, when Shiite Muslims mourn the death of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Islam's prophet Muhammad.
Monday's march was led by a horse meant to symbolize Hussain's steed and decorated with religious motifs. About 200 followers beat their bare backs with blades attached to chains, drawing blood.
No group has claimed responsibility for the weekend attack, which also wounded more than 30 other people. However Sunni extremists have repeatedly targeted minority Shiites during Ashoura.
On Monday, two intelligence officials said that agents had picked up six men on suspicion of planning suicide attacks at Shiite gatherings in Dera Ismail Khan, another northwestern city.
Agents also found suicide belts after arresting the six in separate raids in the city on late Sunday and early Monday, one of the officials said. Both requested anonymity because of the sensitive nature of their work.
However, Interior Minister Aftab Khan Sherpao said he could not confirm the arrests.
After Saturday's attack, the government put army troops on alert to guard against sectarian violence across the country. Sherpao said soldiers were ready to deploy to any of 40 districts considered potential flash points for violence.
Most Sunnis and Shiites coexist peacefully in Pakistan, but militant groups on both sides are blamed for sectarian attacks that claim scores of lives every year. Analysts have suggested that the fierce sectarian violence in Iraq could fuel resentments also in Pakistan.
Security also was stepped up in Pakistan's southern port city of Karachi, another frequent sectarian flash point, after an intelligence report indicated the threat of a car bombing.
Police and troops were ordered to check all vehicles entering the city for explosives, said Jehangir Mirza, chief of police for Sindh province, where Karachi is the capital.
Mirza said police received intelligence on Sunday that an explosives-laden car was heading to Karachi from Dera Ismail Khan.
Saturday's blast went off in a bazaar about 200 meters (yards) from a mosque that was the starting point for the Shiite procession, which was canceled. Most of the victims were police and municipal officials who were clearing the route.
The capital, Islamabad, was also on alert after a failed suicide attack on a five-star hotel on Friday. The U.S. Embassy warned American citizens to avoid all markets, bazaars and public demonstrations through the end of the festival on Tuesday.
The Sunni-Shiite schism over who was the true heir to Islam's Prophet Muhammad dates back to the seventh century. Shiites represent about 20 percent of Pakistan's Muslims, and Sunnis about 80 percent.
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Associated Press Writers Zarar Khan, Ishtiaq Mahsud and Sadaqat Jan contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-04-23 15:53 GMT+08:00