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Pakistani Followers of Slain Sunni Militant Go on Rampage - 2003-10-07

In Pakistan, followers of a slain Sunni Muslim militant leader have taken to the streets, promising revenge. The demonstrations in some cities, including the national capital, Islamabad, have turned violent, leaving at least one person dead and several others injured.

Pakistani religious leader and member of the national parliament, Azam Tariq, was killed when unidentified gunmen sprayed his car with bullets on Monday as he drove into Islamabad. His three bodyguards and driver also died in the attack. The incident is being blamed on militants from the minority Shiite community.

More than 2,000 mourners went on a rampage after the funeral of Mr. Tariq, which took place outside the parliament building in Islamabad. They blamed pro-Iran Shiite groups for the high-profile assassination. The demonstrators chanted anti-Shiite slogans and condemned Iranian leaders for fueling sectarian violence in Sunni dominated Pakistan.

Seventy-two-year-old Rashid Minhas also joined the protesters. "The benefit of the murder is to create more division in the society to make people kill each other," he said.

The demonstrators attacked shops, banks, cars and a gasoline station and set fire to the capital city's only movie theater. Witnesses and hospital officials say the theater was destroyed and one of its employees died of smoke inhalation.

Mohammed Suleman is a senior doctor at one of Islamabad's main hospitals, where several of the wounded are being treated. "Unfortunately we received one person who was brought in dead and his death was due to suffocation," he said.

Police were on high alert because of the expected violence, but intervened only after protesters moved on to a camping area for foreign tourists in Islamabad.

Followers of Mr. Tariq also took to the streets in other parts of Pakistan. The slain leader was buried in his native town of Jhang on Tuesday, where paramilitary troops are assisting the local administration in maintaining peace.

The assassination of the Pakistani religious leader came three days after six Shiite worshippers were killed in an attack in the southern city of Karachi.

The rivalry between the two Islamic sects has caused the death of hundreds of people in Pakistan, including prominent leaders, medical doctors and government officials. Analysts say the murder of the Sunni leader is bound to inflame sectarian tensions in Pakistan.