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Anti-Taliban Islamic Scholar Among Those Killed in Pakistan Attacks


Suicide bombers struck two cities in Pakistan within minutes of each other Friday, killing at least five people and wounding more than 100. Among the dead is a prominent Islamic scholar who openly supported the military campaign against Taliban militants in the northwestern Swat Valley.

Both attacks targeted mosques during or just after Friday prayers.

In Lahore, police say a young man in his teens slipped by security and detonated his explosives in the office of an Islamic seminary next to a mosque in the heart of the city. Among those killed was Sarfraz Naeemi, the cleric of the mosque and a prominent Islamic scholar. Naeemi had publicly condemned suicide attacks and supported the military offensive against the Taliban in Swat Valley.

In Nowshera, south of Swat Valley in North West Frontier Province, a vehicle full of explosives rammed into the side of a mosque that was located inside an army supply depot.

The city's district police officer Abdullah Khan says the attack came near the end of Friday prayers.

Khan says a vehicle that looked like an ambulance struck the mosque very close to the cleric's pulpit. He says the license number of the vehicle has been recovered along with some parts of the suicide attacker's body. The force of the explosion destroyed the mosque, whose worshippers were mostly army personnel.

In Lahore, stunned students of Islamic scholar Safraz Naeemi gathered outside the mosque after the attack, grieving the loss of their leader. They chanted anti-Taliban slogans and began marching down the street in protest.

Pakistani religious scholar Khalid Zaheer says attacks against religious targets in Pakistan, while reprehensible, are mostly carried out by Muslims driven by a strong anti-American sentiment and deep anger toward the Pakistani establishment.

"I am sure they are not in the majority," he said. "But there is this tiny minority which is really so very effective and powerful that it has made the life of us ordinary Pakistanis a hell."

Pakistan has been hit by a wave of suicide bombings and other militant attacks in recent days. Taliban leaders have warned of attacks in retaliation for the military's offensive against extremists in Swat Valley following the collapse of a peace deal to impose strict Islamic law.

Immediately after Friday's attacks, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Gilani and President Asif Ali Zardari issued condemnations and ordered an immediate investigation.

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