A teenage suicide bomber struck at a crowded mosque while worshippers were offering Friday prayers in the Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency, killing 48 people and maiming many more.
It was the deadliest terror attack in Pakistan in three months.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack in Jama Masjid Mandokhel in Ghundi area of the Jamrud tehsil, but officials suspected the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
“It was a suicide attack. The teenage bomber was wearing about 8-10 kilogrammes of explosives and was on foot. He struck in the main prayer hall,” Mumtaz Kundi, Assistant Political Agent of Jamrud tehil, told The Express Tribune. He added that the head and severed legs of the bomber have been recovered from the scene.
More than 500 people had packed into the mosque and a senior official Sayed Ahmed Jan told AFP that the bomb had exploded seconds after the prayers ended. Local sources put the death toll at 60 dead and over 130 injured.
But Political Agent of Khyber Agency Mutahir Zeb differed.
“The death toll has now risen to 48,” he told Reuters. He added that the injured had been taken to hospitals in Peshawar while a bomb disposal squad was at the scene, adding that those killed in the attack included four boys younger than nine years of age.
“Many of the wounded succumbed to their injuries, adding to the toll that may rise further as there are still people in critical condition,” Zeb added.
The mosque is located in an area inhabited by Mandokhel tribe, a sub clan of Kokikhel Afridis, who are opposed to Taliban activity and have been fighting to push them out of their region. “The blast could be a reaction to that,” Zeb said.
Medics at the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) said that they had received 15 bodies and 60 injured persons – eight of them in critical condition.
“The bomber was wearing black clothes and a prayer cap. He detonated the explosives strapped to his body in the third row,” tribesmen Shah Khan, 35, told The Express Tribune at the KTH. Khan himself was standing in the third row when the blast happened.
Another witness Gul Jamal Afridi, 46, a local truck driver said that he had been thrown to the ground by the intensity of the blast. “I saw smoke and fire. People were dying and crying for help, some were running in panic. I saw body parts and human flesh, it was horrible,” he said.
Iftikhar Khan, an official at the Hayatabad Medical Complex in Peshawar, told AFP that 40 wounded people had been rushed there alone.
Student Saqibullah, 24, said he had tried to help those lying near him after the bomb went off, but found most were already dead. “I saw my uncle lying in a pool of blood. I ran towards him and picked him up to carry on my back, but he had already died,” he said.
Blood was splattered across the mosque’s main hall and walls, while the building’s doors and windows were destroyed. Its ceiling fans also lay mangled all over the place, according to our reporter at the site. Ball bearings used in the suicide vest were also scattered across the mosque.
Friday’s bomb was the deadliest atrocity since the May 13 attack when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a police training centre in Shabqadar tehsil of Charsadda district, about 30 kilometres north of Peshawar killing 98 people.
The killing of al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden in the May 2 top-secret raid by US commandos had triggered a spate of deadly violence in the country. However, there was brief lull in violence for the last few weeks.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned the attack. “The attack underscores the brutality of those who would target civilians during a time of celebration and reflection for Muslims,” she said.
(Additional input from Wires)
Published in The Express Tribune, August 20th, 2011.