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8 killed in shooting at mosque

19 hurt; target is sect in Pakistan

MONG, Pakistan -- Armed assailants opened fire yesterday inside a mosque belonging to a small sect that has been ostracized and banned from calling itself Muslim in Pakistan, killing eight people and wounding 19 others, police and a doctor said.

The attack occurred in Mong, a village of 18,000 people located 150 miles southeast of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad. About 150 people in Mong belong to the Ahmadiyya sect, which differs with other Muslim groups over the definition of Islam's founder Mohammed as the ''final" prophet.

''So far we only know that three men riding on a motorcycle suddenly came in the village Friday morning. Two of them went inside the mosque and started firing," said Mohammed Arif, a police official.

Dr. Arshad Nawaz said eight people were killed and 19 were injured, some critically.

Masood Ahmed Raja, a cardiologist who belongs to the sect, said he saw three masked men fleeing on a motorcycle as he arrived at the Baitul Hamad mosque.

''I had no idea who these men were, but when I reached the mosque, I heard cries and saw blood everywhere," he said. ''I don't know who attacked our mosque, but it seems to be an act of religious terrorism."

The Ahmadiyya sect was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, a 19th century Indian religious leader who claimed to be a prophet seeking Islam's renewal. The group has faced persecution in many countries and has been legally banned from calling itself Muslim in Pakistan since the 1970s.

''The shooting went on for five minutes and nobody could get out," said Sadiq Ahmed Sherazi. ''Then it went quiet and all we could hear was the sound of people crying."

The attack coincided with the second anniversary of the death of Maulana Azam Tariq, the head of the outlawed Sipah-e-Sahaba group, which has been blamed for the killings of hundreds of minority Shi'ite Muslims, Christians and some people from the Ahmadiyya sect.

District police chief Waqar Haider said it was unclear who was behind the attack. He said police were searching the area.

The shooting came weeks after Pakistan said it had foiled terrorist attacks by arresting Asif Chotto, the reputed head of the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi group, who had ties with followers of Tariq.

The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which promotes the rights of minorities in mainly Sunni Pakistan, condemned the attack and accused the government of President General Pervez Musharraf of failing to protect minorities.

Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed condemned the attacks and said the government would do everything possible to ensure the protection of minorities.

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