x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Teenage bomber blamed for Pakistani mosque blast

The suicide bomber who struck during Friday prayers reduced one building to rubble, an attack that a local elder has blamed on the Taliban, while grenades were thrown into another mosque, raising the toll to 66.

ISLAMABAD // Two attacks on mosques in north-west Pakistan yesterday killed more than 70 people and left more than 100 people wounded, officials said.

In the main attack, in Akharwal village about 40km from Peshawar, a teenaged suicide bomber killed at least 66 people after he blew himself inside a mosque in north-west Pakistan during prayers yesterday in an attack that local officials said appeared to target anti-Taliban villagers.

Hours later, three hand grenades exploded during evening prayers at a mosque that is associated with an anti-Taliban militia in the Badhber area on the outskirts of Peshawar. Police said that blast killed five people and wounded 24 others.

The attack in Akharwal caused the roof of the two-storey mosque to tumble down, trapping dozens of worshippers beneath the rubble.

Gul Jamal Khan, a local administration official, said more than 100 people were injured as the mosque was packed with worshippers. Several of the injured were in critical condition and officials expect the death toll to rise.

Mr Khan said 11 children were among the dead and an AFP reporter said the force of the explosion reduced the mosque to rubble. Only one wall was left standing.

Houses near the mosque were also damaged, including that of Malik Wali Khan, a leader of a local pro-government militia that had clashed repeatedly with Taliban militants until reportedly cutting a deal this year.

The bomber was described by witnesses as a teenaged boy, who managed to enter the compound and detonated an explosives-laden jacket.

Rescue workers and army troops reached the mosque within 90 minutes and cordoned off the area. The injured were taken to hospitals in nearby Kohat and Peshawar.

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 part of the mosque where the roof didn’t collapse, and I survived.”

Abdul Raziq, a federal senator who represents the district that includes Akharwal, said the Taliban’s motive could be revenge because of resistance they faced by residents of the village.

“The villagers under the leadership of a local strongman Malik Wali Khan had resisted Taliban”, Mr Raziq said in a telephone interview. “Mr Khan was a challenge to the authority of Taliban. Almost three years ago, he had raised a militia and put up stiff resistance to Taliban in Akharwal village. Taliban felt threatened by him.”

Mr Khan paid a price for standing up. He fled to Dubai and Karachi as his life is constantly under threat.

Mr Raziq said Mr Khan is living in Peshawar but had planned to visit his native village over the weekend. “Maybe the Taliban were tipped of his visit.”

“Talibanisation is a challenge for our country”, Mr Raziq said. “The world should support us.”

Azam Tariq, spokesman for Pakistan’s Tehreek-e-Taliban, denied that the faction was involved. The Taliban routinely deny attacks that kill civilians but have been blamed for some of the country’s most devastating bombings.

“It is the work of Blackwater,” Mr Tariq told AFP in reference to the US security company renamed Xe after it was criticised over civilian deaths in Iraq.

The US Embassy in Islamabad condemned the attack.

Yesterday’s bombing was the deadliest in Pakistan since a suicide attacker killed 60 people at a Shiite Muslim rally in the south-western city of Quetta on September 3.

Around 3,800 people have been killed in suicide attacks and bombings throughout the country, blamed on homegrown Taliban and other Islamist extremist networks, since government troops stormed a radical mosque in Islamabad three years ago.

The US wants Pakistan’s military to do more to fight insurgents crossing into Afghanistan and fuelling a Taliban uprising there, and to that end is dangling the carrot of US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) in military aid to Pakistan.

Washington brands Pakistan’s north-west tribal area an al Qa’eda headquarters, but there has been a lull in violence since catastrophic floods in July that affected more than 20 million Pakistanis.


* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse