BAGHDAD, Sept 2: Eleven Pakistani and three Indian Shia pilgrims were abducted and killed in Iraq’s western desert, police said on Saturday. The pilgrims had been travelling to holy sites in Iraq on Thursday when they were attacked in Anbar province, officials said.
“They were coming in a big bus with children and women. The attackers freed the women and children and shot dead the men, execution-style,” said interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf.
An official at the al-Hussein hospital in the city of Kerbala, where the bodies were taken on Friday, said the 14 men had their hands bound and had been shot in the head. Some had been tortured and one was partially decapitated.
Pakistan Ambassador to Jordan Arif Kemal said the pilgrims had been killed by unidentified bandits and Pakistani victims would be buried in Kerbala.
Talking to PTV on Saturday, Mr Kemal said the apparent motive of ambush was looting and plundering of the group which consisted of 26 Pakistanis, including 15 women.
Top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani issued a new call for restraint after meeting Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki at Najaf and warned the government to act quickly to avoid disaster.
Key to Washington’s strategy of averting all-out sectarian conflict has been the build-up of Iraqi security forces to help enforce the authority of Mr Maliki’s three-month-old national unity government, which has so far failed to quell the violence.
A ceremony in which Iraq was to assume operational command of its new armed forces from US generals was postponed at the last minute amid confusion.
“If the state is unable to ensure security for the people then this will open the way for some groups to do this and this would be very risky,” Ayatollah Sistani said in a statement, referring to militias blamed for violence and which Prime Minister Maliki vows to disband.
In his weekly radio address, US President George W. Bush told Americans that Iraq was not in civil war, despite a bloody week in which hundreds more died and a grim Pentagon report said spreading violence might turn into such an all-out conflict.
A quarterly report from the US Department of Defence painted a sombre picture of a still powerful anti-government insurgency and mounting sectarian violence.
“The core conflict in Iraq changed into a struggle between Sunni and Shia extremists,” it said.
Indian junior Foreign Minister E. Ahamed told Reuters the 14 pilgrims were among 40 people who had entered Iraq after touring holy sites in Jordan and Syria.
NAMES: Mr Kemal said most of the pilgrims belonged to Sahiwal and Layyah districts in Punjab and added that all the 26 women were safe and present in Karbala.
Names of the killed pilgrims are: Farhat Abbas, Fazal Sherazi, Malik Irshad Hussain, Mazhar Hussain, Malik
Imran Ali, Sadaqat Ali, Muhammad Ramzan, Ghulam Shabbir, Malik Ghulam Hussain, Imran Amjad, and Rab Nawaz.
Further information can be obtained from Iraq on the following telephone number: 06964-7801010592.—Agencies