As many readers may be aware, today there has been a terrible pair of attacks on Ahmadi mosques in Lahore, by gunman armed with grenades and automatic weapons. As of now about 70 people have been killed. In some ways the style of the attacks — heavily armed gunmen on foot, mowing down people at random in crowded places — reminds one of the attacks by a group of militants on Mumbai, in 2008. Within Pakistan itself, there is also the recent memory of the attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team. The BBC has an eyewitness account by an unsigned observer:
I saw one of the attackers as he was entering the sermon hall, then I ran away. He very much reminded me of the people who attacked the Sri Lankan cricket team, he was wearing similar clothes – the traditional Pakistani dress shalwar kameez and he looked like someone from a tribal area.
I went upstairs and I found a room with a bed, I hid under the bed. I was too scared to leave, even after the firing had stopped. I saw from the window security personnel, rescue people, fire brigade. The bodies had already been taken away.
This is a big old building, it’s 50 years old. I was on my own. I didn’t know what was happening. I could hear the firing going on for quite some time.
I am not surprised by this attack. We were expecting it for three or four weeks – a threat was published in a local newspaper that there would be attacks and the authorities were informed.
That’s why we have our own security guards in front of our mosques. They are not professional, they are volunteers. They were the first to have been killed. (link)
That last detail is distressing: there were specific warnings published in a local newspaper? And the authorities still didn’t see fit to send in police to guard the mosques? Granted, if these guys were anything like the militants in the Mumbai attacks, even armed police may not have posed a significant deterrant. But still: it seems like a malicious kind of negligence to have left these folks to fend for themselves.
This tragedy is part of a long history for the Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan, who form a minority community of about 4 million (many Ahmadiyyas have left Pakistan since the 1970s). Wikipedia describes how the sect was declared to be non-Muslim, and effectively disenfranchised through a series of ordinances, starting in the 1970s. More details about the history of Ahmadi political agitation in Pakistan can be found here (Musharraf initially aimed to counter some of the discriminatory laws targeting Ahmadis, and effectively ended the ban on Ahmadis voting in elections in 2002). Finally, UNHCR has a limited timeline concerning political agitation involving the Ahmadis here.
It should also be noted that there was a serious Maoist attack in West Bengal, India today as well — leaving more than 70 dead as a derailed passenger train was struck by an oncoming cargo train. See a BBC account by Soutik Biswas here. The sense I’m getting is that the sabotage that caused the derailment itself was relatively minor, and might have led to minimal casualties; the event that has caused the high body count was the secondary collision.