INTERNATIONAL

Multan Blast: An act of `sectarian militants'

ISLAMABAD, OCT. 7. At least 40 persons were killed and more than 100 were injured in Multan in the Punjab province in Pakistan as a massive car bomb exploded early on Thursday, targeting people who had gathered to commemorate the first anniversary of an assassinated militant religious leader.

The police believe the explosion, possibly more than one, was planted inside a car parked at one of the entry points and was triggered by remote control. The device was apparently set off as the members began to disperse.

Violence, unrest

There were reports of sporadic violence and unrest in the city with people taking to streets and raising anti-Government slogans. The army was called in and the situation was reported under control by evening.

Police officials say they have not found evidence of any suicide bomber triggering the blast.

The Prime Minister, Shaukat Aziz, reviewed the law and order in the wake of the incident. He discussed the issue with the President, Pervez Musharraf.

Though the explosion appears to be the act of sectarian militants, the Government is not ruling out any option, particularly given the surge in terrorist strikes in recent weeks by forces angry with the Government's crackdown on Al-Qaeda and its cooperation with the U.S. in the "war against terrorism."

Thousands attended the first anniversary of the shooting of the militant Sunni Muslim leader, Azam Tariq. Tariq, a member of the National Assembly, was gunned down on the outskirts of Islamabad last year.

Enemies of mankind

The attack came just days after a suicide bomber killed 30 persons at a Shia mosque in Sialkot. The Interior Minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, called the attack an act of terrorism. Gen. Musharraf said the incident "clearly shows that terrorists have no religion and are enemies of mankind."

Most of the dead were believed to be the followers of the banned Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan (Soldiers of Mohammad's Companions), a Sunni group that Tariq headed. It was one of seven militant groups outlawed by Gen. Musharraf after he joined the U.S.-led war on terror.

Like other such organisations, it took another name after the ban — Millat-e-Islamia (Islamic Nation). The leader of the renamed group, Maulana Muhammad Ahmed Ludhianvi, blamed Shia radicals for the blast.