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Militants Launch Bloody Attack on Minority Sect in Pakistan

Pakistani police commandos take position outside one of the two stormed mosques by gunmen in Lahore, 28 May 2010

Suspected Islamic militants launched a coordinated attack on worshipers from a minority sect on Friday in Pakistan, killing around 80 people and wounding scores of others.

The attack in Lahore targeted two major mosques of the minority Ahmadi community.

Witnesses say hundreds of worshipers were offering Friday prayers when gunmen armed with automatic weapons and hand grenades entered the buildings. Two eyewitnesses who were among the worshipers spoke to reporters outside one of the mosques.

They said gunmen entered the main hall and opened fire on worshipers who lay down on the floor to save their lives. One of the men said he saw up to 10 bodies. Security forces quickly surrounded the two mosques, one located in a upscale area known as Model Town, while the other is located in a densely populated old part of Lahore, Pakistan's second largest city.

A top police officer Sajjad Bhuttta told reporters that security forces killed one attacker while two have been arrested, with one of them critically wounded. He said at least three gunmen were also wearing suicide vests and blew themselves up shortly after entering one of the mosques.

The attack was condemned as brutal act of terrorism by Federal Minister for Minorities in Pakistan, Shahbaz Bhatti. He said Pakistan is dedicated to defeating religious extremists.

"They are enemies of Pakistan. They are enemies of democracy. They are enemies of religious freedom," said Bhatti. "The government is making all the efforts to protect the rights of [the] minority, the worship places of [the] minority, but these elements who are attacking the worship places of [the] Ahmadi community, at the same time they are attacking religious places of the Muslim community, Christian community."

Bhatti added the militants are attacking the state institutions. "They are bombing schools. They are trying to destabilize the peace of the country."

Suspected Taliban and al-Qaida linked militants have carried out frequent attacks on minority groups in Pakistan, including Shi'ite Muslims and Christians. The militants have also attack the security forces to avenge successful army attacks on their bases, particularly in northwestern parts of the country.

Religious extremists have attacked members of the minority Ahmadi community in Pakistan. But the scale of Friday's attack is unprecedented. The minority group calls itself a Muslim sect, but under pressure from majority Sunni Muslims, Pakistan declared the Ahmadi a non-Muslim minority in the 1970s, prohibiting them from calling themselves Muslims.