Saturday 24 June 2017

Teenage suicide bomber kills 70 people in packed mosque

Riaz Khan in Peshawar

A suicide bomber massacred dozens of people as they prayed in an attack on a crowded mosque.

The mosque is used by tribal elders opposed to the Pakistani Taliban who may have been responsible for the bloodbath.

The death toll -- which may rise because of the horriffic extent of the injuries -- stood at 70 last night.

Only hours after the atrocity, three more people were murdered in a grenade attack on another mosque also associated with anti-Taliban militia.

"The blast tossed me up, then I fell down," Mohammad Usman, a 32-year-old schoolteacher with wounds to his head and arms, said from his hospital bed. "Later, it was just like a graveyard."

The strikes in northwest Pakistan were a reminder of the potency of the Taliban and their al-Qa'ida allies along the Afghan border despite American-backed army offensives.

The Obama administration believes success against insurgents there is key to the strategy of winning the war in Afghanistan.

The Pakistani army has supported the creation of militias to fight the Taliban, who are unpopular in many parts of the northwest. The groups know the region and its inhabitants and are seen as useful in securing cleared areas or stopping militants from moving into their districts.

The terrorists regularly target these groups with suicide attacks and warn residents not to join up with them. On two occasions this year suicide attackers have killed about 100 people attending militia events, while dozens of others have been killed in smaller strikes.

Yesterday's first attack happened at midday in the town of Darra Adam Khel, a militant stronghold which lies on the edge of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal region.

The bomber, who police said appeared to be a teenager, ran into the mosque where several hundred worshippers were gathered for midday prayers on the holiest day of the week. He detonated explosives around his waist.

Survivors bundled the victims into cars and rushed them to hospitals in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest and just an hour's drive away.

At one hospital, a woman beat her head in grief while two elderly men in blood-soaked clothes lay in a corridor.

Local government official Shahid Ullah said tribesmen running an anti-Taliban militia often met at the mosque, but they were not there on this particular day. Another official, Saeed Khan, said 67 were killed and 100 others were wounded.

Targeted

It was the deadliest suicide bombing since a pair of attackers killed 102 people and wounded 168 in the Mohmand tribal region in July. That blast targeted tribal elders resisting the Taliban who were meeting a government official.

GEO News TV reported that the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of local militants based in the tribal region, claimed responsibility for yesterday's attack.

Later yesterday, three hand grenades exploded during evening prayers at a mosque in Peshawar's Badhber district, 22km from the first attack. Along with three dead, 24 people were wounded, said police official Ejaz Khan.

Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that attack was a "reaction to the successes" of an anti-Taliban militia, known as a lashkar, in Badhber.

Irish Independent

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