A Taliban suicide bomber killed more than 50 worshipers and wounded more than 125 in an attack at a mosque in Pakistan’s tribal areas along the border with Pakistan. The bombing is the second mass-casualty suicide attack in Pakistan’s insurgency-infested northwest in two days.
The death toll is expected to rise, Tariq Hayat Khan, the Political Agent for Khyber said according to a report in The Times of India. “Forty-five to 46 bodies have been retrieved … up to 70 people could have been killed,” Khan said.
The attack took place in the Jamrud district in Pakistan’s Khyber agency. Khyber is the gateway to Afghanistan; NATO’s main supply route for its forces in Afghanistan passes through the tribal agency.
The suicide bomber detonated his vest in the middle of a packed mosque just as prayers began. “Police, paramilitary forces, and government officials were among the congregation in the mosque,” Geo News reported. The two-story mosque was leveled, the news agency reported.
The Taliban have not taken credit for the attack, but had previously threatened to destroy a police station next to the mosque.
“It’s surprising, those who claim that they are doing jihad and then carry out suicide attacks inside mosques during Friday prayers,” Khan told Geo News. “They are infidels. They are enemies of Pakistan. They are enemies of Islam.”
Today’s bombing is the third attack inside a mosque this month. On March 5, an attacker targeted worshipers at a mosque in Dera Ismail Khan, a district adjacent to the Taliban-controlled tribal agency of South Waziristan. Twenty-five people were wounded after the attacker lobbed a grenade during prayer. And a March 2 suicide attack at a gathering in a mosque in the Pishin district in Baluchistan killed six civilians.
The Taliban have conducted numerous attacks in mosques and during religious events in the Northwest Frontier Province, Baluchistan, and Punjab over the past several years. The most high-profile attack occurred on Dec. 28, 2007, in Charsadda, when a suicide bomber detonated in a mosque in an attempt to kill former Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao as he conducted Eid prayers. More than 50 were killed and scores were wounded.
Other major attacks at mosques and religious events in Pakistan include the Sept. 10, 2008, attack on a mosque filled with Ramadan worshipers in Dir that killed 25 Pakistanis and wounded more than 50; the Nov. 21, 2008, suicide attack on a funeral procession in Dera Ismail Khan that killed 10 people and wounded 25 more; and the Feb. 5, 2009, suicide attack outside of a mosque that killed more than 30 Shia worshipers and wounded more than 50.
The Taliban have stepped up their suicide bombing campaign in Pakistan and are on pace to break the 2007 and 2008 suicide attack totals. Today’s suicide attack marks the sixth such bombing inside Pakistan this month. There were five suicide attacks inside Pakistan in February this year and another three in January, totaling 19 attacks during the first quarter of 2008.
The Taliban and al Qaeda conducted 56 suicide attacks in Pakistan in 2007 and another 61 attacks in 2008.