Fifty killed by suicide bomb at Khyber mosque

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The Independent Online

At least 50 people were killed in the north of Pakistan when a suicide bomber targeted a mosque packed with hundreds of people attending Friday prayers. Scores more were injured and officials said they believed the death toll would rise.

The mosque, in a valley near the town of Jamrud in the Khyber tribal area, is located directly alongside the main supply route for Nato forces in Afghanistan – a road that has often been shut down because of militant activity. Yesterday's bomb blast was the deadliest in Pakistan yet this year.

Television footage showed residents and police officers digging with their hands through the ruins of the white-walled building. Bodies covered in dust and blood were carried away on makeshift stretchers fashioned from blankets and scarves, and taken to a hospital. Crowds of women gathered, waiting for news of their menfolk.

"This mosque is right next to the main supply route," said a local official, Javed Afridi, speaking by phone from the nearby city of Peshawar. "No one has yet claimed responsibility though I believe the local Taliban have said it is nothing to do with them." But other officials said they believed the bomb had all the hallmarks of Islamist extremists, acting out of revenge for recent military offensives by Pakistani forces to protect the route. "Residents of this area had co-operated and helped us a lot. These infidels had warned that they will take revenge," Tariq Hayat, the senior administrator of the tribal region, told the Associated Press. "They are the enemy of Pakistan. They are the enemy of Islam."

Reports suggested that anywhere up to 300 people were in the mosque, 20 miles from the Afghan border, when the bomber struck. The imam leading the prayers had apparently just spoken the words "God is great" when the bomber detonated his device. The roof of the two-storey building collapsed. Afterwards, police caps, prayer caps, prayer beads and mobile phones were lined up on a wall outside.

The area where the bombing happened has also been beset by feuds between rival tribal and militant groups, some of them loosely allied with the government. There have been a number of suicide bombings and attacks on mosques. In recent months, Taliban fighters have carried out a string of attacks on trucks and transport depots along the route, destroying scores of military vehicles, including Humvees. The attacks have persuaded Nato to look for other, more reliable supply routes.

The bombing is just the latest example of what sometimes feels like an endless wave of extremist violence in Pakistan. 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, south-west of Khyber. Earlier in the week, a bomber killed himself and a police officer in an attack on the police special branch's headquarters in Islamabad as the country celebrated its National Day.