LAHORE, Pakistan — More than 80 worshipers of a minority Muslim sect, the Ahmadis, were killed and more than 110 wounded Friday in a coordinated assault by seven well-trained attackers on two mosques in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, the authorities said.
At the mosque known as Dar-ul-Zakir, near the train station, two attackers blew themselves up inside the prayer hall after spraying the congregation with bullets, police officers said.
The target was the Ahmadis, a group of about two million Muslims in Pakistan who are considered heretical by many mainstream Muslims because the Ahmadis believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded their movement in 1889, was the messiah foretold by Muhammad, the prophet of Islam.
There are sizable communities of well-educated Ahmadis in the United States, Britain and other parts of the Muslim diaspora.
The assault, which began during Friday Prayer and lasted more than three hours at the Dar-ul-Zakir Mosque, and about an hour at the Bait-ul-Noor Mosque, occurred amid a surge of sectarian violence in Pakistan in the last two years.
Minority sects like the Ahmadis and the Shiites and have come under increasing pressure as religious extremism has taken hold, fomented by sectarian groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, formerly state-sponsored organizations.
The Ahmadis were declared a non-Muslim minority in the 1970s during the rule of the military dictator Muhammad Zia ul-Haq, a period during which jihadist ideology became ingrained in Pakistan’s state and religious education system.
The minister of law in Punjab Province, which includes Lahore, the capital, said that in the days before their assault, the attackers stayed with the Tablighi Jamaat, a Muslim missionary group that is often described by terrorism experts as the antechamber to the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The headquarters of the Tablighi Jamaat are in Raiwind, a town on the outskirts of Lahore.
The minister, Rana Sana Ullah Khan, said he believed that the attackers, who operated as commandos, throwing hand grenades and firing automatic weapons, had been trained for the task in Waziristan, the Pakistani Taliban’s base.
Geo TV, a leading news channel in Pakistan, reported that members of the Punjab branch of the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attacks. The Punjab branch is composed mainly of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Jaish-e-Mohammad, which have joined forces with the Taliban.
The attackers, who worshipers said were quite young, opened fire outside the mosques around 2 p.m., just as the sermons were finishing, survivors said.
The assault at the mosque near the train station was the more audacious, the police said. One gunman mounted the minaret and traded fire with the police below.
The explosion from the two suicide bombers who blew themselves up in the prayer hall there increased the number of deaths, the police said.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan has regularly reported on discrimination against the Ahmadis, and has said that intolerance of them by extremists has escalated. “The extremists are not tolerating any other community, including Ahmadis, and it seems the government has failed to control them,” said I. A. Rehman, the commission’s executive director.
The State Department report on human rights said this year said that 11 Ahmadis were killed last year in Pakistan because of their faith. The report said Pakistani law forbade Ahmadis to refer to themselves as Muslims or to engage in any Muslim practices, including using Muslim greetings, referring to their places of worship as mosques, or taking part in the hajj.
Live broadcasts of the attacks in Lahore were notable on Friday for failing to refer to the Ahmadis as Muslims. Reporters and commentators rarely referred to the Ahmadis by name, preferring the phrase “minority community.”
(Listed if other than Religion News Blog)