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Death toll rises to 98 in Pakistan attacks

By the CNN Wire Staff
Pakistani Ahmadi community members carry a coffin of a victim during a funeral ceremony on May 29.
Pakistani Ahmadi community members carry a coffin of a victim during a funeral ceremony on May 29.
  • NEW: Intelligence warned of possible Lahore attack
  • Militants said to be from Waziristan tribal region
  • 98 dead, 110 wounded in Friday's attacks
  • Attackers targeted houses of worship for persecuted sect

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Pakistani authorities are blaming Friday's deadly attacks in Lahore on militants with ties to the Pakistani Taliban.

Akram Naeem, spokesman for the Punjab police, said the attackers are terrorists from the Waziristan tribal region of Pakistan, where the Pakistani Taliban group maintains a strong presence.

Interior Minister Rehman Malik said there had been intelligence earlier in the month that an attack could happen in Lahore and that Punjab police did take some steps to react.

Then on Friday morning, attackers with bombs and firearms targeted houses of worship in Lahore belonging to the Ahmadi sect, a persecuted religious group. The death toll stood at 98, officials said Saturday, and dozens more were wounded in the attacks.

The scenario jibes with Malik's belief that the country will endure more sectarian and ethnic violence. He said he believes "hostile elements" like the Pakistani Taliban and other militant groups "are trying to destablize Pakistan."

Most of the dead -- 75 -- were killed at the place of worship in the Model Town neighborhood. The remaining 23 were killed in the Garhi Shahu neighborhood, he said.

Video: Gunmen shown shooting at mosque
Video: Attacks result 'pampered extremists'
Video: Mosques attacked in Pakistan
  • Pakistan
  • The Taliban

Witnesses and officials said the attackers tossed hand grenades and fired weapons, including AK-47s. In the Model Town attack, one of the gunmen was critically injured and another was detained, police said.

Ahmadis regard themselves as Muslim, but the government says they aren't, and many Muslim extremists have targeted them. Sunni and Shiite Muslims say Ahmadis are not Muslim because they do not regard Mohammed as the last prophet sent by God.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization, deplored the attacks and said it had warned the Punjab provincial government about threats to the Ahmadi community center in Model Town for more than a year. Lahore is the capital of Punjab province.

The movement was founded in 1889. Its followers believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who lived between 1835 and 1908, was sent by God as a prophet "to end religious wars, condemn bloodshed and reinstitute morality, justice and peace," the worldwide Ahmadi group says.

The group, which is thought to number between 3 million and 4 million people in the country, endures "the most severe legal restrictions and officially sanctioned discrimination" among Pakistan's religious minorities, according to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.

The religious freedom commission, an independent, bipartisan U.S. government body, said in its latest annual report that "Ahmadis may not call their places of worship 'mosques,' worship in non-Ahmadi mosques or public prayer rooms which are otherwise open to all Muslims, perform the Muslim call to prayer, use the traditional Islamic greeting in public, publicly quote from the Quran or display the basic affirmation of the Muslim faith."

The agency says it's illegal for the group to preach publicly, pursue converts or pass out religious material, and adherents are restricted from holding public conferences and traveling to Saudi Arabia for the hajj pilgrimage.

While the greatest number of its followers are in Pakistan and India, Ahmadis have a presence in many European countries, such as Britain, where the religion's fifth and current spiritual head, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, resides.