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Pakistani bomb kills 20 at shrine, amidst chants of "Death to America"

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20 Killed in Bomb Blast at Muslim Shrine

By SADAQAT JAN,

Associated Press Writer

Fri May 27, 6:01 AM ET

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - A suicide bomber set off explosives Friday in the midst of Shiite Muslims reciting the Quran, killing at least 20 and wounding dozens gathered for a religious festival at a shrine near the capital.

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The motive was not immediately clear, but there are frequent sectarian attacks in this Islamic country by extremist elements of the Sunni and minority Shiite sects.

An AP photographer at the scene counted at least 20 bodies, many in pieces. An intelligence official said at least 20 people were killed and 150 were wounded.

The bomb ripped through hundreds of worshippers as they were reciting from the Muslim holy book beneath tents at the Bari Imam shrine outside Islamabad.

"It was like hell," said Syed Muktar Hussain Shah, 40, who had been waiting for a prominent Shiite leader, Hamid Moasvi, to address the gathering when the bomb went off. "I fell down ... when I woke up I saw dead bodies around me."

"None of the bodies was intact," said Dr. Wahid Abbas, who helped treat the wounded. "Some had legs blown off, some had their hands blown off."

He and other witnesses said police collected the head of a suspected suicide bomber. Authorities did not immediately confirm that information.

The Shiite leader, Moasvi, was not hurt, witnesses said.

Mukhtar Kazmi, who was running a free clinic at the shrine, said it had treated about 200 people.

Police cordoned off the shrine and blocked access roads after the blast. The shrine is about half a mile from the official residence of Pakistan's prime minister, Shaukat Aziz.

Shiite worshippers, weeping and moaning, beat their chests in grief. Some clashed with police after officers charged the crowd with their batons to clear the way for ambulances.

Many also chanted, "Down with America!"

Ali Ahmad, a worshipper who was wounded in the blast, said he saw police try in vain to stop a man in a police uniform from entering the tent.

Another witness, S.M. Shirazi, said two bearded men he thought were the bombers entered the gathering and sat near a podium at the front. An explosion then occurred, and the body of one of them flew in the air, he said. He didn't know what happened to the other man.

Shabbir Hussain said there was panic after the blast.

"I saw pieces of dead bodies, lots of dust in the air. Then I heard people crying and people wailing and I left because we feared a series of bombs. People were shouting, 'Leave the place, there might be another explosion!'"

The schism between Sunnis and Shiites dates back to a 7th century dispute over who was the true heir to the Prophet Mohammed.

In February, gunmen fired at mourners returning from a funeral near the shrine, setting off a firefight that killed three people and injured several others. The violence was believed linked to a feud between two families over control of the shrine.

Later Friday, radical Islamic groups planned rallies in Islamabad and other cities in Pakistan to protest the alleged desecration of the Quran by interrogators at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

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