LAHORE, Pakistan Suspected Islamist militants attacked two mosques packed with hundreds of worshippers from a minority sect in eastern Pakistan on Friday, holding hostages and battling police, officials and witnesses said. More than 70 people died, and dozens were wounded.
The assaults were carried out by at least seven men, including three suicide bombers, officials said. Two attackers were captured. At one point, a gunman fired bullets from atop a minaret. The attacks in Lahore against the Ahmadi community illustrate the threat minority religious groups face in Pakistan, a Muslim-majority nation whose longtime struggle with sectarianism has been exacerbated by the violent rise of the Sunni extremist Taliban and al-Qaida movements. Ahmadis are reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims for their belief that their sect's founder was a savior foretold by the Quran, Islam's holy book. The group has experienced years of state-sanctioned discrimination and occasional attacks by radical Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, but never before in such a large and coordinated fashion. The attacks Friday took place in the Model Town and Garhi Shuha neighborhoods of Lahore, Pakistan's second-largest city and one of its politically and militarily most important. The assault at Model Town was brief, and involved four attackers spraying worshippers with bullets before exploding hand grenades, said Sajjad Bhutta, Lahore's deputy commissioner. Several kilometers away at Garhi Shahu, the standoff lasted hours. TV footage showed an attacker atop a minaret of the mosque at one point in the siege, firing an assault rifle and throwing hand grenades. Outside, police traded bullets with the gunmen, an Associated Press reporter saw. Bhutta said at least three attackers held several people hostage inside. The three wore jackets filled with amunition. "They fought the police for some time, but on seeing they were being defeated they exploded themselves," he said.