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7 held in Pakistan after attack on sect

Associated Press / May 31, 2010

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LAHORE, Pakistan — Seven men have been arrested in connection with a militants’ attack on a minority sect in eastern Pakistan that killed 93 people, police said yesterday.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik visited one of the two mosques attacked Friday in Lahore and promised to work with local officials to tackle the growing problem of militancy in Pakistan’s heartland of Punjab province.

“The terrorists, who have been hiding in southern Punjab, have now surfaced,’’ said Malik. “Our action will be stronger now because we cannot tolerate these killings.’’

The government has been criticized for lacking the will to crack down on militants in Punjab, many of whom are part of now-banned militant groups that were started with government support in the 1980s and 1990s to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and pressure India.

Many of these groups have formed links with the Pakistani Taliban, who have recruited militants to carry out attacks in parts of Pakistan far from the Taliban sanctuary in the northwest near Afghanistan.

Police said the seven men arrested over the past two days in different parts of Punjab belonged to a variety of militant groups but refused to specify which ones. The arrests were fueled by information gleaned from one of the attackers who was captured Friday.

Friday’s attacks targeted the Ahmadi sect, a minority reviled as heretics by mainstream Muslims.

Seven gunmen attacked two mosques in Lahore with assault rifles, grenades, and suicide vests. At least two of the attackers were captured, while some died in the standoff or by detonating their explosives.

Pakistanis have criticized the government for failing to protect them from militant attacks.

A woman visiting one of the wounded yesterday refused to accept a bouquet of flowers from Malik, the interior minister, when he visited the hospital, and a media report said she lambasted him for inadequate government security.

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