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Pakistan releases bomber's photo, deploys army

Written by: Staff
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KARACHI, Apr 13 (Reuters) Pakistani police released a photograph today of the bearded, bloodied head of a suspected suicide bomber, and the army was ordered onto Karachi's streets to prevent rioting after the killing of 57 people at a prayer meeting.

No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday's blast, which targeted a congregation of 15,000 Sunni Muslims, Pakistan's majority sect, celebrating the birthday of Prophet Mohammad.

''We definitely know that the bomber blew himself up, but what needs to be known is whether he was alone or not,'' Niaz Siddiqui, Karachi police chief, told Reuters. ''There are three bodies and a body-less head which are still to be identified.'' The photograph showed a heavily bearded man's head propped on a pillow, bound by string to keep it together as one portion of the face had been blown away. Both eyes were half open.

Typically, a suicide bomber's head is blown off by the upward force of the explosives strapped to his body.

Suicide bombing has become more common in Pakistan, and Islamist militant groups angered by President Pervez Musharraf's support for the US-led war on terrorism have used it in attempts to assassinate both the president and his prime minister.

There had been speculation earlier that there could have been more than one suicide bomber, and the police chief said the head and body parts were being sent for DNA testing to get matches, but the results might take a couple of days.

Police were also questioning a wounded Shi'ite Muslim from Baltistan, in Pakistan's Northern Areas. He said he was at the scene with an Afghan national investigators are now looking for, a police official said.

Low-level violence between Sunnis and Shi'ites has gripped some regions in the high mountains of Pakistan's far north, in recent years without spilling over to other parts of the country.

MANY MILITANT GROUPS The police have still to narrow down the list of usual suspects as Pakistan has many militant groups, from sectarian, separatist and ethnic movements to al Qaeda-linked Islamists.

Soldiers were deployed at the request of the local government in the volatile southern city, to reinforce police and paramilitary troops patrolling the streets since the attack.

''We appeal to the people of Karachi and Pakistan to maintain peace,'' Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz said during a visit to a city bristling with tension.

Violence between political parties is also commonplace in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, and officials in Sindh province's Muttahida Qaumi Movement government privately voiced fears that some Islamist rivals might seek to blame them.

Funerals were scheduled for later today for several leaders of Jamaat-e-Ahle Sunnat, a religious movement which has hundreds of thousands of followers among Pakistan's dominant Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims, who were killed in the blast.

''We have called for a countrywide strike tomorrow to protest the killing of the Sunni leadership,'' said Shah Turabul Haq, one of the leaders who survived the attack.

The Sindh government has called for three days of mourning, closed schools and colleges, and advised foreign franchises such as fast-food outlets KFC and MacDonald's to remain shut.

In some neighbourhoods, youths burned tyres and pelted passing vehicles, and several parked cars were set ablaze, according to the fire department.

But roads were generally quiet, with much reduced traffic as public transport had virtually stopped and most petrol filling stations had closed, creating fuel shortages in the city. Several cars and fuel stations have been torched in the past few days.

REUTERS SHB KP1754

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