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South Asia

Bombers target Shiites in Pakistan

A bomber has targeted Shiite Muslims in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, hours after a twin bomb attack in Karachi. The attacks have raised concern that Shiites will be vulnerable when marking a key religious date this weekend.

A suicide bomber struck in the Pakistani city which hosts the country's army headquarters on Wednesday night, killing at least 13, according to officials and media sources.

The bomb went off during a minority Shiite procession in Rawalpindi, a city which is located just south of Islamabad.

"According to the initial investigation, the blast occurred after a suicide bomber walked into the procession and blew himself up, the experts are busy in further investigation," said Muhammad Haroon, a police official at the scene.

The bomb tore through the walls of a Shiite mosque. Hundreds who were taking part in the procession carried on marching, despite the fact that other explosive devices were discovered at the scene.

There remains some uncertainty over the exact death toll. Local TV stations put the number at 13. Officials later gave a higher figure.

"The total number of dead people has now reached 16. Some 32, including nine children, have got injured," Waqas Rehman, a spokesman for the Rescue 1122 service, said to AFP.

Pakistan's Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, which occurred within hours of deadly twin bomb attacks targeting a gathering of Shiites in Pakistan's largest city, Karachi, killing at least three.

The attacks took place on the eve of a Developing 8 (D8) summit, taking place on Thursday in Islamabad. Mainly Muslim nations, including Iran and Turkey, are attending. The Gaza conflict is anticipated to be high on the agenda.

A vulnerable minority

Sunni militant extremists with links to al Qaeda have intensified their attacks targeting Pakistan's minority Shiites, whom they do not recognize as Muslims.

Pakistan's authorities are expected to be on especially high alert this weekend, which is an important date in the Shiite religious calendar: the climax of Shiite mourning month, Muharram. It is expected to draw 50,000 people to the streets of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. Muharram marks the Battle of Karbala, at which the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and his relatives were killed.

Radical groups have carried out large-scale attacks during the same period in the past. Thousands of security officials are anticipated to be deployed.

sej/slk (AFP, Reuters)