Suicide attackers stormed a mosque close to Pakistan's army headquarters, killing 35 people during Friday prayers as they sprayed gunfire at worshippers and threw grenades before blowing themselves up, officials said.
The strike by at least two gunmen was part of a wave of bloodshed that has killed more than 400 people in Pakistan since October. It was a bloody reminder of the resilience of militant networks despite army offensives against the Taliban in the northwest regions bordering Afghanistan.
Two hours after the attack began, occasional gunshots were still being heard from inside the heavily fortified area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi just a few miles from the capital. Reporters were kept away from the scene.
Three helicopters hovered overhead while trucks carrying commando teams and ambulances raced through the cordoned-off area as soldiers kept onlookers and traffic away.
The attack, the third to target Rawalpindi in nearly two months, began when several gunmen staged an explosion to break through a checkpoint close to the mosque, which was popular with army officers, said Yasir Nawaz, a police official at the scene.
He said the installation included an army parade ground as well as the mosque, which was often used by military officers.
Two of the assailants were able to enter the mosque and sprayed the congregation with gunfire and grenades, said military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas. He said there were other attackers, but provided no details about them.
An intelligence official said 35 people were killed, their bodies taken to two hospitals close to the scene. Seventy others were wounded.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that Britain stood "shoulder to shoulder" with Pakistan in the fight against terrorism. In a letter of condolence to Pakistani president Asif Ali Zardari, Mr Brown condemned the outrage as a "heinous attack".
The Prime Minister wrote: "I was very sorry to hear about the terrible attacks in Rawalpindi this morning.
"My condolences go out to the victims of this heinous attack and their families.
"The UK stands shoulder to shoulder with Pakistan in confronting the menace of terrorism."
The attack follows a meeting at 10 Downing Street between Mr Brown and Pakistan's prime minister Raza Gilani yesterday, at which the struggle against violent extremism topped the agenda.
Mr Brown urged Pakistan to do more to hunt down the leaders of the al Qaida terror network, including Osama bin Laden.
But Mr Gilani insisted bin Laden was not in Pakistan and that his security forces had been "extremely successful" in tackling terrorists within its borders.Reuse content