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8 Killed by Gunmen in Attack on Pakistani Mosque

Gunmen in Eastern Pakistan have killed eight people and injured at least 19 others early Friday at a crowded mosque belonging to a minority sect.

Witnesses say three men armed with assault rifles attacked the mosque, which belongs to the minority Ahmadiyah sect of Islam.

Dr. Masood Ahmed Raja, a local doctor and member of the sect, says he rushed to the mosque after seeing masked gunmen flee the scene on motorbikes.

"When I reached the mosque, the whole of the mosque was filled with blood and all of the injuries are of gunfire," he recalled.

He says the dead and injured, more than two dozen people, were taken to a nearby government hospital.

Meanwhile, police have launched a manhunt for the assailants near the village of Mong, where the attack took place, in the northeastern part of Punjab province.

District police officer Waqar Haider says 20 suspects have been detained for questioning.

He says the attacks could be a case of extremism, but it is still too early to say for sure.

Friday's attack appears unrelated to the ongoing rivalry between Pakistan's majority Sunni and Shiite Muslim sects, which has led to hundreds of deaths in recent years.

The Ahmadiyahs are frequently persecuted in Pakistan, where many Muslims reject the group's unorthodox tenets.

The sect, founded more than a century ago, disputes the traditional Muslim belief that Islam's founder, Mohammad, was the religion's final prophet.

The government here passed a series of laws in the 1970's and '80's declaring the sect non-Muslim and banning it from using traditional forms of Muslim worship.

The deadly attack comes as Muslims throughout Pakistan observed Friday morning prayers for the start of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.