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Page last updated at 18:40 GMT, Friday, 12 June 2009 19:40 UK

Bomb kills senior Pakistan cleric

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The aftermath of the blast that hit an Islamic religious school in Lahore

A leading anti-Taliban cleric has been killed in a suspected suicide bomb attack at his Islamic religious school in the Pakistani city of Lahore.

The explosion struck the Jaamia Naeemia madrassa around the time of Friday prayers, killing Sarfraz Naeemi.

Another blast hit a mosque close to a military depot in the north-western garrison town of Nowshera.

The Taliban said it had carried out the simultaneous attacks, in which at least six people were reported dead.

Spokesman Maulvi Omar also told AFP news agency it was responsible for the attack on the Pearl Continental Hotel in nearby Peshawar, the capital of North West Frontier Province, on Tuesday which killed 18 people.

Map

The attacks come as Pakistan's army is broadening its offensive against the Taliban in north-western areas following gains made in the Swat valley area.

In Lahore, the senior cleric at the Jaamia Naeemia madrassa, Sarfraz Naeemi, was greeting visitors in his office after Friday prayers when the suicide bomber managed to get inside and detonate explosives.

A spokesman for the madrassa confirmed that Mr Naeemi had been killed by the blast. There were other reports of injuries.

Swat supporter

Mr Naeemi's son, Waqar, was close by when the bomber struck.

"I was still in the mosque when I heard a big bang. We rushed toward the office and there was a smell of explosives in the air. There was blood and several people were crying in pain," the Associated Press reported him as saying.

My father used to say that I have got one life to live and I will dedicate it to my nation, the police, the army and the prophet
Raghib Naeemi
Son of murdered cleric

A leading Sunni Muslim scholar opposed to the Taliban, Mr Naeemi was known for his outspoken views against suicide bombings and militancy.

He was one of the few scholars who had openly supported the ongoing military operation in Swat and had labelled the activities of the Taliban "un-Islamic".

Mr Naeemi took part in a conference of Islamic scholars, convened by the government in May, which criticised suicide attacks and the beheading of innocent Muslims as un-Islamic.

He also told the media that the Taliban were "misusing" religion for their activities and were bringing a bad name to the Islamic faith.

He reportedly refused to have guards at his madrassa, saying it would restrict the entry of people into a place "where all should come freely".

Appeal for calm

The scholar's other son, Raghib, said his father had been "threatened for opposing the Taliban".

Syed Shoaib Hasan
The BBC's Syed Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad


Sarfraz Naeemi was outspoken when it came to the Taliban, calling them "a stigma on Islam" in a recent interview with the Times of London.


He was at the helm of a newly-formed council of 22 Islamic groups opposed to the Taliban.


Dr Naeemi lived a spartan lifestyle with his family and those who knew him personally spoke of him as a straightforward and honest man.


He reportedly used an old motorbike to get about in an age when most religious scholars of his standing commanded a fleet of the latest vehicles.


The Jamia Naeemia, which Sarfraz Naeemi ran, is one of the largest madrassas in the Pakistan and is seen as highly progressive.


The madrassa embraces modern technology and even has a fully-fledged computer lab.

"But my father used to say that I have got one life to live and I will dedicate it to my nation, the police, the army and the prophet," Raghib said.

He appealed for calm among his father's supporters, adding: "Very soon a common strategy will be announced."

The other attack, in Nowshera, took place in a military high-security zone, close to an armed forces supply depot.

At almost exactly the same time as the bomber killed Sarfraz Naeemi in Lahore, a van drove up to the gate of a mosque compound during Friday prayers before the driver detonated the explosives.

The blast was so powerful that the roof of the mosque collapsed, with many people now feared to be buried under the debris.

Reports say several dozen worshippers, including members of the armed forces, have been injured. However, there is no confirmed death toll.

The BBC's Shoaib Hasan, in Islamabad, says the attacks expose the inability of Pakistan's security forces to halt Taliban retaliation for the offensive against them.

As the army's operations continue in Pakistan's north-west it is expected that such incidents may become more frequent.



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