MULTAN, Pakistan – Assailants with assault rifles attacked a mosque belonging to a small Muslim sect in eastern Pakistan (search) early Friday, killing at least eight people and wounding 19, police and a doctor said.
The attack on the mosque belonging to Ahmadiyya (search) sect happened in the village of Mong (search), about 240 miles northeast of Multan, a main city in the eastern Punjab province, said Mohammed Arif, an area police officer.
"So far we only know that three men riding on a motorcycle suddenly came in the village Friday morning. Two of them went inside the mosque and started firing," he said.
Arshad Nawaz, a doctor at a hospital in the area, confirmed that the death toll had risen to eight and said 19 people were still being treated, some of whom were in critical condition.
Masood Ahmed Raja, a cardiologist who belongs to the Ahmadiyya sect, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that he was going to the Baitul Hamad (search) mosque when he saw three masked men fleeing on a motorcycle.
"I had no idea who these men were, but when I reached the mosque, I heard cries and saw blood everywhere," he said. "I don't know who attacked our mosque, but it seems to be an act of religious terrorism."
Waqar Haider, the district police chief, said police were searching areas near the Mong village in an effort to catch the assailants. He refused to speculate who might have been behind the attack.
An estimated 150 of the 18,000 people in Mong belong to the Ahmadiyya sect.
The sect was founded in 1889 by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (search), a 19th century Indian religious leader who claimed to be a prophet seeking Islam's renewal. The religious group differs with other mainstream Muslim groups over the definition of Islam's founder Mohammad (search) being the "final" prophet.
Ahmadiyas have been persecuted and ostracized in many countries, including mainly Sunni Muslim Pakistan, where a law dating to the 1970s forbids them to call themselves Muslim.