The death toll from a suicide bombing on a mosque in northwest Pakistan has risen to 68, officials said on Saturday.
A suicide bomber struck the mosque during the main weekly prayers on Friday. The blast turned worship into a bloodbath in Akhurwall village, part of the semi-tribal northwest area of Darra Adam Khel, about 140 kilometres (90 miles) west of the Pakistani capital Islamabad.
“Sixty-eight people are now confirmed dead in the bombing,” top local administration official Shahidullah told AFP.
The official said the death toll might rise after many people took away the bodies of their loved ones from the site of the attack so those were not included in the grim counting process. Police officials today (Saturday) confirmed the rise in the death toll.
Updated from print edition (below)
A teenage suicide bomber targeted a Friday prayers congregation at a mosque in a semi-tribal area near Peshawar, killing 61 people and maiming more than 100, officials said.
The bombing in Darra Adam Khel, in the administrative jurisdiction of Kohat district of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, was the deadliest in two months. It destroyed the mosque structure, trapping human remains under a toppled roof and pulverised rubble, witnesses said.
Kohat Division Commissioner Khalid Khan Umarzai confirmed to The Express Tribune that it was a suicide attack and that the target was the Friday congregation.
Witnesses said the bomber walked into the crowded mosque in the Attari village and shouted Allahu Akbar before a deafening explosion.
Dilawar Gul, 30, said he was collecting donations from worshippers when he heard the suicide bomber shout. “Then I heard a huge blast which flung me to a part of the mosque where the roof didn’t collapse, and I survived,” he added.
Local administration official Abdul Malik said 61 people were killed but warned the toll could rise further as some of the over 100 injured are in a critical condition. Residents said the force of the explosion reduced the mosque to a pile of rubble. Only one wall was left standing and the concrete roof collapsed, leaving blood stains and human remains scattered in the rubble.
Houses near the mosque were also damaged, including that of Wali Muhammad, the leader of a local pro-government tribal lashkar that had clashed repeatedly with the Taliban until reportedly cutting a deal earlier this year.
Ambulances and private volunteers rushed to take the victims to hospitals in Peshawar. Medics at the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) told The Express Tribune that they received 92 casualties, among them 25 dead and 67 injured.
According to locals, at least seven children were also among the dead. And the LHR administration confirmed they received bodies of four children.
“Thick smoke filled the mosque compound after the blast. Bodies were scattered all over and the injured were crying for help,” Muhammad Sadiq, who was also injured in the attack, told The Express Tribune from his hospital bed.
Local tribal elder Sohbat Khan Afridi blamed the Taliban, given that Wali Muhammad, who formed the tribal lashkar in 2007 to rise up against the militants, has a house close to the mosque, although he is understood to live in Lahore.
The Taliban and the lashkar clashed repeatedly in the area but this year they reached some kind of compromise in which blood money was paid to the Taliban, Afridi said. He declined to go into further details saying only: “The lashkar apologised to the Taliban because they did not have the means to defeat the Taliban.”
But Azam Tariq, spokesman for the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), denied involvement. “It is the work of Blackwater,” Tariq told AFP by telephone from an undisclosed location in reference to the US security firm renamed Xe.
Umarzai suggested the attack could have been retaliation for military operations targeting militants. “An operation is under way by the Army and Frontier Corps in the Darra Adam Khel area. We had been expecting such attacks.”
Khyber-Pakthunkhwa Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain, who visited the LHR, told journalists that an “undeclared third world war” was going on in the region. He called for Pakistan, Afghanistan and the US to enhance intelligence sharing to control such attacks. Hussain also said that it was the responsibility of Nato troops to eliminate terrorists on their side of the Durand Line.
It was the second deadliest attack in Darra Adam Khel since militancy gripped the region. Earlier on March 2, 2008, at least 40 tribal elders were killed in a suicide attack on a jirga in the same area. (Additional input from AFP)
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2010.