2 Dead In Pakistan Bomb Attack

Three bombs exploded near a vast tent village in Pakistan Thursday, where tens of thousands of Islamic militants praised holy wars, condemned India and the United States, and collected donations to buy bullets to use against Indian soldiers.

At least two people were killed when the bombs went off in rapid succession not far from the gathering of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, one of Pakistan's most militant Islamic groups, police and witnesses said. At least 23 were injured, two critically, police said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility and it wasn't clear whether the victims had been attending the conference.

The first bomb went off outside a small hotel, and two more exploded nearby within minutes, witnesses and police said. Bomb searchers found and defused a fourth bomb, police said.

Security at the site of the three-day affair had been tight. A bomb exploded last year at a similar gathering, which the militants blamed on Indian security agents.

"This is a conspiracy against the freedom fighters," a conference leader said over the loudspeakers.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba are fighting India for control of Kashmir, and its members were among those who captured Indian-controlled Kashmir last summer.

The resulting border dispute between hostile neighbors India and Pakistan threatened to escalate into an all-out war but ended after Pakistan's then-premier, Nawaz Sharif, orchestrated the withdrawal of militants from Indian-ruled areas. Sharif was deposed in a military takeover Oct. 12.

"He betrayed Kashmir and Kashmiri freedom fighters," Qasi Abdul Wahid Kashmiri told followers.

He praised the coup as having saved militant groups. Two days before the army takeover, Sharif's Interior Minister Shujaat Hussein said Pakistan had planned to crack down on such groups.

"We are being crushed by the evil forces," said Kashmiri.

An estimated 300,000 followers knelt in prayer as loudspeakers blared verses from the Muslim holy book, the Koran, throughout the tent village at Muridke, roughly 15 miles from the Punjab provincial capital of Lahore.

Banners extolled the value of jihad, or holy wars, worldwide and condemned the United States as an enemy of Islam. Followers from Sudan, Afghanistan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia attended the all-male conference that began Wednesday.

Lashkar-e-Tayyaba, under consideration by the United States to be declared a terrorist organization, openly recruits men to fight India in Kashmir. The former princely state was divided between India and Pakistan when the British left the Asian subcontinent in 1947.

Also, the bodies of two suspected members of Lashkar-e-Tayyaba were recovered following a gun battle inside the army headquarters in the heart of Kashmir's capital, the Indian military said.

In a daring attack on the heavily fortified army camp Wednesday, the militants killed a major and six soldiers, and injured five others.

At the conference, the hats, boots and uniforms o Indian soldiers killed in Kashmir were on display.

"I'm so proud," said Mohammed Illyas. "It shows that the money we are donating is being used for the right purpose."

By Munir Ahmed