Pakistan: Suicide bomb kills 24 near Shiite mosque

A suicide bomber blew himself up among worshipers streaming toward a Shiite Muslim mosque in central Pakistan, killing 24 people and wounding dozens more.

The attack in the city of Dera Ghazi Khan on Thursday risks sparking sectarian fury in a country already battling rising militancy along the Afghan border and tension with India over the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The bomb detonated as a crowd approached the mosque for an evening prayer ceremony. Television footage showed bystanders and emergency workers trying frantically to help victims lying in the darkened street.

Athar Mubarak, the city police chief, said the bomb contained metal balls and nails. As well as the 24 dead, another 40 people were wounded, he said.

"Evidence collected from the spot indicates that a suicide bomber blew himself up in the crowd," Mubarak said.

Hasan Iqbal, the city's top administrator, said he believed that the Shiite gathering was deliberately targeted. He wouldn't say whether Sunni extremists were likely behind it, and there was no immediate claim of responsibility.

However, relations between this Muslim nation's strong Sunni majority and Shiite minority have already been tested by a series of attacks attributed to sectarian extremists.

Pakistan is under pressure to clamp down on a string of Islamist extremist groups, including one suspected by archrival India and in Western capitals of being behind the November attacks in Mumbai that killed 164 people and nine assailants.

Somalia

Pirates take $3.2M ransom

As U.S. Navy ships looked on, Somali pirates sped away Thursday with $3.2 million in ransom after releasing an arms-laden Ukrainian freighter, ending a four-month standoff. The Navy said it couldn't seize the bandits for fear of endangering 147 other seamen still held hostage on other hijacked ships. So, within sight of two nearby U.S. warships, the pirates counted the cash — air-dropped by parachute — then took off in motorboats, pirate Aden Abdi Omar said, speaking to the Associated Press by satellite phone after arriving in the central Somali town of Harardhere. "We are not holding it (the ship) anymore," said Omar, adding that more than two dozen pirates made their escape aboard motorized skiffs, navigating the choppy waters in small groups. The seizure of the MV Faina, loaded with Soviet-era tanks and other heavy weapons, was one of the most brazen in a surge of pirate attacks on shipping off the Somali coast.

London

Snow snarls travel — again

The second heavy snowfall to hit Britain this week caused major travel delays Thursday, and roads and airports in neighboring Ireland also suffered snow-related shutdowns. Train operators reported delays on routes linking London with western England and Wales after up to 4 inches of snow fell overnight in south Wales and western and central England. British forecasters said more heavy snow was likely today in London and southern England.

Jerusalem

Israel seizes ship with aid for Gaza

The Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying humanitarian supplies from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip and towed the vessel into port Thursday, foiling a new attempt by international activists to break Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory. It was the first time Israeli forces seized an aid ship, after the navy let some boats in and turned others around. The interception was condemned by Lebanon and Syria, adding to regional tensions in the wake of last month's devastating Israeli offensive against the Islamic militants of Hamas who control Gaza. Meanwhile, talks in Egypt to cement a long-term cease-fire in Gaza ran into obstacles Thursday. A Hamas delegation left Cairo without agreeing to a truce deal.

Guatemala

U.S. pledges $16M for antidrug initiative

The U.S. has pledged $16 million in drug aid to Guatemala. Guatemalan Interior Secretary Salvador Gandara said the money will pay for training for police officers and investigators and help improve air and sea surveillance. U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland said between 200 to 300 tons of cocaine pass through Guatemala on the way to the United States each year. The funds are part of the Merida Initiative, a $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package approved by the U.S. Congress in June. The aid will go to Central America, Haiti, the Dominican Republic and Mexico. Gandara and McFarland signed the pact Thursday.

Ethiopia

Young U.S. diplomat is found dead

A young American diplomat has been found dead at his house in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, and foul play is suspected, U.S. and Ethiopian officials said Thursday. A U.S. State Department official said the body of Brian Adkins, 25, was discovered Saturday in Addis Ababa. The official said Adkins had not been the subject of any threats but that foul play appeared to be involved.

Times wires

Pakistan: Suicide bomb kills 24 near Shiite mosque 02/05/09 [Last modified: Thursday, February 5, 2009 10:59pm]

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