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Mosque Bombing in Pakistan Leaves Dozens Dead

BY Admin  March 27, 2009 at 1:35 PM EST

Pakistani tribesmen search for survivors; AP photo

The attack in the Khyber region was the bloodiest in
Pakistan this year and came hours before President Barack Obama unveiled a
revised U.S. strategy that emphasized the need to eradicate militant havens
along the Pakistan-Afghan frontier.

The bomber set off his explosives as the prayer leader began
the service, according to media reports.

“The moment the imam said Allahu Akbar (God is
Greatest), the blast went off,” Tauseer Khan, 70, told Reuters from a
hospital bed in the nearby city of Peshawar.

“It was huge. I still can’t hear properly,” said
Khan, who had wounds to his hands and face. His son and grandson were also
wounded.

Noor Mohammad, a policeman in the tribal region, told the
BBC: “I was standing on the veranda outside the mosque because I was late
and could not find space inside. After the explosion, the doors into the mosque
caught fire. Moments later, the mosque collapsed.”

Rahat Gul, a spokesman for the Khyber administration said 50
people were killed and 75 wounded but Tariq Hayat Khan, Khyber’s top government
administrator later revised the death toll to 37.

Among the dead were 14 police officers and paramilitary
soldiers while 160 were wounded, Khan said.

Between 250 and 300 people were in the mosque at the time of
the blast, he said.

“The attacker was seen jumping into the courtyard of
the mosque and blowing himself up,” Khan told Reuters.

Television footage showed scores of residents and police
officers digging frantically with their hands through the ruins of the
white-walled mosque, whose roof collapsed in the explosion.

Police, paramilitary forces and government officials were
among the worshipers in the mosque near Jamrud town, about 20 miles from the
Afghan border. The mosque lies in a rocky valley on the main road along which
trucks carry vital supplies to the expanding U.S.-led force in Afghanistan.

Suspected Taliban militants have carried out a string of
attacks on both trucks and transport depots along the route in recent months,
destroying military vehicles and raising doubts about the reliability of the
supply line.

The area has also seen feuds between rival tribal and
militant groups, some of them loosely allied with the government, which have
included suicide bombings and attacks on mosques.

“Residents of this area had cooperated and helped us a
lot. These infidels had warned that they will take revenge,” said Khan,
according to the Associated Press. “They are the enemy of Pakistan. They
are the enemy of Islam.”

Rising violence in Pakistan is fueling doubts about the
pro-Western government’s ability to counter Taliban and al-Qaida militants also
blamed for attacks on Western troops in Afghanistan.

President Obama’s new strategy will aim to disrupt,
dismantle and eventually destroy militant sanctuaries in Pakistan and prevent
them from establishing safe havens in Afghanistan.

“It’s surprising, those who claim that they are doing
jihad (Muslim holy war) and then carry out suicide attacks inside mosques
during Friday prayers,” Khan told Geo TV.

“They are infidels. They are enemies of Pakistan. They
are enemies of Islam,” he said.

On Thursday, a suicide bomber killed nine people at a
restaurant frequented by militants opposed to a top Pakistani Taliban commander
in the South Waziristan region, southwest of Khyber.

At least 25 people were killed last month in a suicide bomb
attack on a funeral procession in Dera Ismail Khan, a town in North-West
Frontier Province, close to the semi-autonomous tribal area, according to the
BBC.