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Over 40 killed in Pakistan attack
Updated: 2004-03-03 09:07

Three gunmen opened fire and hurled grenades on a procession of Shiite Muslim worshippers in the southwest Pakistani city of Quetta Tuesday, killing more than 40 people and wounding scores more.

The procession of hundreds, including women and children, was part of a celebration marking Ashura, the 10th day of the holy month of Muharram. The shootings triggered a stampede, although there was no word of deaths resulting from the stampede.

Soon after, a Sunni Muslim mosque, a television network office and several shops were set afire as Shiites rioted in parts of the city, and an exchange of gunfire took place near the scene of the initial violence, The Associated Press reports police saying.

Maj. Gen. Shaukat Sultan, a Pakistani military spokesman, said army and paramilitary troops had been called in to provide additional security.

The attack was of the most deadly in a long series of assaults on the Shiite Muslim minority in Pakistan.

Quetta's Mayor Abdul Rahim Kakar told The Associated Press that the three attackers opened fire and threw grenades at the procession, and then, walking among the crowd with explosives tied to their bodies, blew themselves up as the police moved in.

Two terrorists died at the scene and one was in critical condition.

He would not reveal the identity of the man and only said that he was being treated for his injuries. Some other suspects were being questioned in connection with the attack, but it was not immediately clear if they had been arrested.

Hospitals put the death toll at 42. Mohammed Wasim, a doctor at the Central Government Hospital, said the center had received 19 bodies. The Combined Military Hospital reported taking in 23 dead.

Qamar Zaman, an assistant police inspector in Quetta, said that more than 150 people had been injured, some of them critically.

Pakistani soldiers try to control the crowd after Tuesday's attack.

Sectarian violence between extremist Sunni and Shiite groups has been responsible for many deaths in Pakistan.

Also Tuesday, a local Shiite leader was shot and killed in Mundi Bahauddin, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Lahore. Individual sectarian killings are common in Pakistan.

The attacks in Pakistan came on the same day that a series of deadly explosions killed many Shiite worshippers in Iraq. Those attacks were in Baghdad and the Shiite holy city of Karbala.

There was no immediate evidence the attacks in Pakistan and Iraq were connected.

Quetta was the site of one of the worst acts of sectarian violence in years in Pakistan when armed militants stormed a Shiite mosque last July, killing more than 50 people. The attackers tossed grenades and shot at worshippers during Friday prayers.

Authorities said they believed a Sunni extremist group may have been behind that attack.

Many Sunnis and Shiites live peacefully together in Pakistan. Sunnis outnumber Shiites by a ratio of about four-to-one. Muslims make up 97 percent of Pakistan's population.

Security had been stepped up nationwide in Pakistan for Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year.

Ashura is the holiest day for Shiites and commemorates the seventh century death of Imam Hussein -- a top Shiite saint and the grandson of the prophet Muhammad -- who died in 680.

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