Pakistan mosque attack death toll rises to 25

Other News Materials 11 September 2008 11:43 (UTC +04:00)

The death toll in the overnight attack on a mosque in Pakistan's militancy-plagued North West Frontier Province (NWFP) rose to at least 25 people, officials said Thursday.

The attackers targeted the packed mosque in Maskani area of Dir district late Wednesday night as locals offered special prayers in the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, reported dpa.

They first lobbed at least three hand grenades over the parameter wall and then fired volleys of shots at the people, including children, as they fled the mosque in panic.

"The official death toll has reached 25 while around 50 people have been wounded," the local mayor, Bahadur Khan, said.

According to Khan, some of the injured were still in critical condition because of multiple bullet and shrapnel wounds.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but it is suspected that it came as fallout from continuing military operations against Islamist insurgents in the adjoining districts. Dir borders the tribal district of Bajaur close to the Afghan frontier.

Pakistani security forces with artillery and helicopter gunship cover on Wednesday killed more than two dozen rebels in a major advance on their stronghold in Bajaur. More than 600 militants have been killed during the month-long clashes.

Chieftains in Dir also blasted the pro-Taliban fighters a few weeks ago for the growing violence in the north-western regions and vowed to fight them off by arming groups of locals.

The mosque attack was strongly condemned by the country's new president, Asif Ali Zardari, whose Pakistan People's Party (PPP) runs the national government and also supports the provincial government in the NWFP.

"Attacking the people who had gone to offer prayers at the mosque was a most despicable thing and an act of those who were against Islam's vision of peace and solidarity," Zardari said in a statement.

He reiterated the commitment to fighting terrorists with full force.

The government engaged the militants in peace talks early this year but the truce did not hold for long. After a brief lull the rebels relaunched attacks, including suicide bombings, on security forces and public figures.