Attack on Shia funeral sparks Pakistan riots

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A suicide bomber attacked the funeral of a slain Shia Muslim leader in north-western Pakistan yesterday, killing 28 people and triggering riots. Rising sectarian attacks threaten to further destabilise Pakistan just as it faces intense international pressure to crack down on militants.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said Washington was worried that a five-day-old ceasefire in the restive Swat valley could “turn into a surrender” to the Taliban insurgents behind beheadings, the bombing of schools for girls and attacks on security forces. Yesterday’s explosion struck a 1,000-strong crowd heading to a graveyard in Dera Ismail Khan for the burial of Sher Zeman, a Shia leader shot in the city the day before.

A police spokesman, Ishtiaq Marwat, said a suicide attacker killed at least 28 people and wounded more than 60 others. Some of the dead and injured were taken to the hospital in handcarts. Gunfire broke out after, and police said Shia fired on officers rushing to the scene. Two Sunni Muslim residents were shot dead in the rioting.

There was no claim of responsibility, but past attacks on Pakistan’s minority Shia have been carried out by extremists from the majority Sunni community who regard the sect as heretical.