LAHORE, Pakistan, (Reuters) – Gunmen attacked worshippers from a minority sect in two mosques of the northeastern Pakistani city of Lahore on Friday, taking hostages and killing at least 30 people, officials said.
The gunmen opened fire shortly after Friday prayers and threw what could have been grenades at two Ahmadi mosques in residential neighbourhoods in Pakistan’s cultural capital.
Rizwan Naseer, director general of an ambulance service, told Reuters 30 bodies had been taken to hospitals in the city.
City officials had earlier put the death toll at 14. “There are some hostages and we are planning an attack,” said Haider Ashraf, a senior police office in the neighbourhood of Garhi Shahu. “Their lives are under threat.”
Shooting continued at Garhi Shahu.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but suspicion quickly fell on the Pakistani Taliban.
“The operation is not even over yet, so its too early to say who is behind these attacks. But my guess is that like most other attacks, there would be some link to the Taliban or their associated militants,” said a Lahore-based security official.
In Model Town, site of one of the attacks, police said one gunmen had been arrested and another killed. “The prayer leader was giving a sermon when we heard firing and blasts. Everybody stood up and then two gunmen barged into the mosque and sprayed bullets,” Fateh Sharif, a 19-year-old student, told Reuters from Model Town. “They had long beards. They were carrying rucksacks.”
Bhutta said a suicide vest packed with explosives was recovered from the Model Town mosque, where some attackers escaped. One fired at a television van before the area was made safe. “He was young, clean-shaven. He sprayed bullets at our van while fleeing the scene,” Rabia Mehmood, a reporter for Express Television, told Reuters.
Witnesses said the assaults were launched shortly after prayers. “I saw some gunmen run towards the Ahmadis’ place of worship and then I heard blasts and gunfire,” Mohammad Nawaz, a resident, told Reuters.
Stock market investors shrugged off the latest violence.
“Initially we saw some selling after the attack but investors started accumulating shares at lower levels,” said Asad Iqbal, chief executive at Faysal Asset Management Ltd adding that there was foreign buying which boosted local confidence.
Sajid Bhanji, a dealer at brokers’ Arif Habib Ltd, said: “It is a tragic incident but investors have become somewhat immune to such attacks.”
The Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) benchmark 100-share index was up 0.75 percent at 9,511.75 points at 4:05 p.m. (1105 GMT).
Ahmadis are a minority Muslim sect founded in the late 19th century. They hold unorthodox beliefs among Muslims, including that Jesus Christ survived the crucifixion and died in Kashmir. Some also believe that prophets have come after Mohammad, the founder of Islam, but that he retains his primacy.
Pakistan is the only Muslim state to have declared Ahmadis non-Muslims. Its 4 million-odd members have seen their religious rights in overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan curtailed by law.
Pakistan, a key U.S. ally in the fight against militancy, is often the scene of sectarian violence, with militants from Sunni Muslim groups attacking Shi’ite Muslim and Christian communities.
Separately, security forces battled Taliban militants in the Orakzai region near the Afghan border in the northwest and about 40 militants were killed and 30 wounded in attacks by government aircraft in three places, a paramilitary force officer said.
There was no independent confirmation of the toll.
Militants often dispute government accounts.
Government forces have stepped up attacks in Orakzai in recent weeks after winding up offensives in several other areas.