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Suicide bomber kills 22 as violence spreads in Pakistan

A SUICIDE bomber attacked a crowded Shiite mosque south of Islamabad yesterday, killing 22 people and wounding dozens more, officials said.

Violence in Pakistan has spread well beyond the dangerous Afghan border region, including a suicide bombing in Islamabad on Saturday that killed eight paramilitary personnel and a deadly commando-style attack against a police academy last week in Lahore.

No one claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack.

Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani Taliban commander claimed responsibility for the attack on the paramilitary forces on Saturday, saying it was in retaliation for United States drone missile strikes against militants in Pakistan near the Afghan border.

The group has also said it carried out the attack in Lahore.

Yesterday's suicide bomber set off his explosives at the entrance to a mosque in Chakwal city in Punjab province, about 80 kilometers south of Islamabad, during a religious congregation, according to security official Nadim Hasan Asif.

"The suspect was stopped at the entrance and pushed himself in and exploded," the security official said.

Another police officer, Nasir Khan Durrani, said the attack could have been much worse.

"Had he succeeded in exploding inside it could have caused a much bigger loss because there were hundreds of people inside," the officer said.

Farid Ali, who left the mosque just before the attack occurred, said he felt the blast on his back and looked back and saw smoke and dust.

"I saw several people lying dead," he said. "There was blood everywhere."

Local television footage showed pools of blood on the road in front of the mosque. Torn clothes and a pair of shoes also littered the ground. Police investigators were shown collecting evidence, not far from a car and four motorcycles that were damaged by the blast.

A policeman with both his legs bandaged and another wounded man whose shirt was stained with blood were shown on hospital beds crying in pain.

A woman standing in the emergency ward of the hospital wailed: "Oh my God. Oh my God."

Pakistan's Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani condemned the attack, saying it was masterminded by people against the state and who wanted to give Islam a bad name.

Most of the militant attacks in Pakistan take place in the area near the Afghan border, where Taliban and al-Qaida militants have established bases and often strike US and NATO forces in Afghanistan.

But militants have also stepped up attacks in Pakistan's interior.

Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud claimed credit for the attack on the police academy in Lahore, which left 12 people dead.

Hakimullah Mehsud, one of his deputies, said the attack in Islamabad on Saturday that killed eight members of the security forces was in retaliation for US drone strikes.


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