MONG, (Pakistan), Oct 7 (AFP): Masked gunmen with Kalashnikov rifles stormed into a mosque belonging to a minority Muslim sect in Pakistan Friday, shooting dead eight people and wounding 14, the interior minister and police said.
Members of the Ahmadi community reciting dawn prayers on the second day of Ramadan in Mong, a suburb of Mandi Bahauddin town, 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of Islamabad, were attacked by three men on a motorbike and two on foot.
"Eight people are dead and 14 injured," Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao told AFP. "We condemn this attack. Any act of violence in which innocent people are killed should be condemned."
Sherpao said he had issued orders to further tighten security at places of worship. Pakistan has been on alert since the start of Ramadan, which has traditionally seen a surge in attacks.
Information Minister Sheikh Rashid also condemned the attack on the Ahmadi, who were declared non-Muslim heretics in 1974 by Pakistan for their belief that Mohammed may not be the last prophet.
The head of the mosque, Sadiq Hussain Sherazi, said he was leading the prayers when he heard the "cracking sound of gunfire and I immediately threw myself on the floor."
"The attackers thought I was dead and that is what saved me. After a while I got up and saw bodies all around me," he told AFP at the scene of the attack.
"People riddled with bullets were shouting for help. There was blood and chaos all around and the wall was full of bullet holes."
Neighbours rushed in and took the injured to hospital, Sherazi said. Six people were killed on the spot while two others died in the hospital, he added.
Area police chief Ziaullah Niazi confirmed that eight were dead and 14 injured, adding that one of the wounded was in a critical condition.
"Two masked men entered the mosque and calmly sprayed bullets at people standing in two rows for morning prayers," Niazi said. "One witness said they could hear the sound of a motorbike with its engine running outside throughout the attack."
Rights groups say the Ahmadi sect, which is also known as Qadiani and has tens of thousands of members, has been long been persecuted in Pakistan and has remained an occasional target of sectarian attacks.
Founded by Ghulam Ahmad, who was born in 1838, it has a number of unique views including that Ahmad himself was a prophet and that Jesus died aged 120 in Srinagar, capital of India's zone of the divided territory of Kashmir.
Ahmadi leaders said their members in Mong had recently received threats but vowed not to take revenge. "Rather we will remain peaceful," Rashid Zahid, spokesman for the group's head council, told AFP.
No one has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Religious violence in Pakistan, mostly between majority Sunni Muslims and minority Shiites, has claimed around 4,000 lives in the past decade.