Peshawar | At least 20 people were killed and over 50 injured when Kalashnikov-wielding Taliban suicide bombers stormed a crowded minority Shia mosque in Pakistan’s restive northwest during Friday prayers, opening fire and exploding bombs, in the latest sectarian attack to hit the country in recent times. The attack comes exactly two weeks after a suicide bombing inside a packed Shia mosque in Pakistan’s Sindh province during the Friday prayers killed 61 people, including children, in the deadliest sectarian attack to hit the country in recent times.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack at the Imamia Masjid Imambargah in the posh Hayatabad area here where worshippers had gathered for the ‘Zuhr’ afternoon Friday prayers. The Imambargah is situated close to several government buildings, including the local passport centre and the Federal Investigation Agency offices. At least three explosions and gunfire was heard. So far, 20 people have been killed and over 50 others have been injured, hospital sources said.
Three suicide bombers entered the mosque carrying grenades and Kalashnikovs. However, only one of them was able to denonate the bomb. Another suicide bomber was killed by security forces while the third one was arrested in an injured condition, Dawn.com quoted SSP operations Mian Saeed as saying. One suicide bomber’s jacket has been defused by bomb disposal squad, the report added. An eyewitness said Friday prayers were being offered when armed men wearing security forces’ uniform entered the mosque and hurled grenades at the security personnel deputed at the premises.
Earlier, there were reports that some militants were still in the mosque and were exchanging fire with security forces. The police and army personnel-led operation at the mosque ended after nearly two and a half hours, police said. Television footage showed images of people running frantically as the area was covered with thick smoke. Many injured were seen limping Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and President Mamnoon Hussain strongly condemned the attack. Political leaders including Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan also expressed grief over the incident.
The attack is a reminiscent of the December 16 Peshawar school carnage last year that killed at least 150 people, including 136 students. Security and rescue operation teams were dispatched to the area, with forces cordoning off the site for further inspection. Hayatabad was under heavy surveillance as helicopters hovered over the area and dozens of security personnel took position to clear the vicinity.