Violence Erupts in Pakistan

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:16 PM EDT

( - In a new challenge to President Pervez Musharraf, a U.S. ally, and stability in Pakistan, a spate of violence has left at least 30 people dead. That includes six people killed when a mob enraged by a suicide attack on a mosque torched a branch of the American KFC fast-food chain.

Three days after 19 people were killed when a Shiite shrine was bombed near Islamabad, another Shiite mosque came under attack Monday, this time in Karachi. Two worshipers and a policeman were killed, along with two of three terrorists who bombed the mosque during evening prayers. The surviving attacker was wounded.

Karachi police chief Tariq Jamil was quoted as saying the act was one of sectarian terrorism -- a reference to long-running violence between majority Sunnis and minority Shiites in Pakistan.

Three attackers tried to enter the mosque; one succeeded and detonated a bomb. The others were killed and injured during an exchange of fire with police, during which the policeman was also shot dead, he said.

After the attack, a Muslim mob rampaged, setting fire to at least ten vehicles, two gas stations as well as the restaurant, according to local news reports.

Overnight, six bodies were found in the wreckage of the KFC outlet, police reported.

Up to 90 percent of the world's Muslims are Sunnis, while Shiites comprise the second largest denomination in Islam, the result of a seventh-century disagreement over who should be Mohammed's successor.

Extremist Sunnis in Pakistan view Shiites -- who comprise about ten percent of the population, but about 23 percent in Karachi -- as infidels, despite the fact the founder of their country, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, was a Shiite. Radicals on each side seek support from Saudi Arabia and Iran, respectively.

According to India's Institute for Conflict Management, more than 1,600 Pakistanis have been killed in periodic bouts of sectarian violence since 1989.

Sectarian violence has continued in recent years even as most attention has been on the broader war against al-Qaeda and the Taliban, a campaign supported by Musharraf since 9/11.

The two conflicts have not been separate, however. The Sunni extremist group, Lashkar-i-Jhangvi is held responsible for numerous attacks against Pakistani Shiites, but also is a confirmed al-Qaeda ally and has been linked to terror attacks including the murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl and a 2002 car bombing at the American consulate in Karachi.

Musharraf outlawed Lashkar-i-Jhangvi just weeks before 9/11, along with several other militant groups including a Shiite extremist group, Sipah-i-Mohammad.

The violence has not abated, however. Last year, more than 100 people died in sectarian attacks on mosques and religious gatherings, according to the State Department. A number of professionals from the Shiite community, especially doctors and lawyers, were also targeted for attack.

In September last year, Pakistani troops shot dead leading Lashkar-i-Jhangvi member Amjad Hussain Farooqi, accused of involvement in the Pearl killing and in two assassination attempts against Musharraf.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow