Explosion in Pakistan Destroys Video Shops

Suspected Islamic militants detonated an anti-tank mine in northwestern Pakistan, destroying four video shops and raising fears that radicals are using violence to impose a harsh brand of Islam, a human rights official said Saturday.

There were no injuries in Friday's blast in the village of Inayat in northwestern Bajour region, about 20 miles from the Afghan border, police said. No one immediately claimed responsibility, but police suspect Islamic radicals.

"We are very concerned by the attack on the video shops," said Afrasyab Khattak, chairman of Pakistan's independent Human Rights Commission. "I think such acts are part of efforts to conservatize (sic) our society and put curbs on basic rights of the people through illegal and unconstitutional manners."

Khattak said extremists have been allowed to employ intimidation and coercive tactics in an attempt to impose strict Islamic laws favored by Afghanistan's deposed Taliban, including banning television and videocassettes. He added that the religious right has made radical elements feel they can act with impunity.

The blast occurred in Pakistan's North West Frontier Province, where a hardline Islamic coalition swept to power in October's elections. The coalition of six religious parties has not banned movies, but has made it hard for theater operators.

In Peshawar, the provincial capital, 61 people were arrested last week in police raids on movie houses showing videos deemed obscene, in some cases for no other reason than men and women appearing together on the screen.

The provincial government also outlawed music on buses and promised greater segregation of men and women.

Afghan and western intelligence sources have reported that training camps for Islamic militants are operating in the Bajour region where the attacks occurred.

The nephew of the Taliban's No. 3 man, Maulvi Abdul Kabir, said suicide bombers are being trained in the area by Al Qaeda fighters from Middle Eastern countries. Radical Pakistani groups outlawed by the government also have supporters in the Bajour region.

The coalition of radical religious parties won the October elections on a strong anti-American platform, and have promised to stop joint raids by Pakistan military and U.S. Special Forces in the tribal regions bordering Afghanistan, where fugitive Taliban and Al Qaeda members are believed to be hiding.

At election rallies organized by the religious coalition, posters of Usama bin Laden were waved openly and praise was showered on Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who also is hunted by U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan.