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Pakistan suicide bomber kills 22 outside mosque

A suicide bomber struck a Shiite Muslim mosque outside the Pakistani capital on Sunday, killing 22 people, the latest sign of rising sectarian violence and the growing reach of the Islamic insurgency.

The attack took place in the city of Chakwal, about 60 miles south of Islamabad. It came less than 24 hours after at least eight paramilitary troops were killed in a bombing in the capital and six days after militants stormed a police training center in the eastern city of Lahore.

The spiraling violence in Pakistan has long since spilled out of the tribal areas along the Afghan border, where Taliban and Al Qaeda militants find a haven, and into Pakistan’s heartland. The bombing was the third major attack in six weeks in Punjab, the country’s most populous and affluent province.

A Taliban-linked group claimed responsibility for the bombing, which occurred at the entrance to a Shiite mosque that was packed with worshipers. Insurgents in Pakistan have stepped up efforts to sow chaos by fomenting violence between Sunni Muslims and the country’s Shiite minority.

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The attack left a now-familiar tableau of wailing wounded, pools of blood and a scattering of shoes and clothing.

A district police officer, B.A. Nasir, said guards intercepted the bomber before he could enter the mosque compound, where at least 1,000 people were gathered, thus preventing even greater carnage.

The relentless pace of attacks has emphasized the fragility of Pakistan’s civilian government, in power just over a year. Prime Minister Yusaf Raza Gillani vowed to bring the perpetrators to justice, but most suicide bombings in the country go unsolved.

President Obama has pledged massive new development aid to Pakistan but warned that it is not a “blank check” and that authorities must take decisive steps to quell the insurgency. The militants’ increasing strength in Pakistan has greatly complicated Western troops’ battle with the Taliban and allied groups in neighboring Afghanistan.

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The Fedayeen al Islam, which is believed either to be allied with Pakistan’s Taliban movement or a front for another Taliban-linked group, claimed responsibility for Sunday’s attack in calls to Western news agencies. The claim could not be substantiated.

In a number of recent attacks, the perpetrators have demanded an end to the campaign of U.S. missile strikes aimed at militant leaders in the tribal areas.

American intelligence officials have said the strikes are successfully disrupting the leadership of militant groups operating along the Afghan frontier.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Zaidi is a special correspondent.


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