GHALLANAI: Twenty-eight worshippers were killed and 35 others sustained injuries when a suicide bomber attacked the Friday prayers at a mosque in the Anbar Tehsil of Mohmand Agency, official and local sources said.
The sources said that about 200 villagers were ready to begin the Juma prayers at the Juma Gul Mosque in Payekhan Killay, Kharay Darra, in the remote Anbar tehsil when the suicide bomber detonated his explosives-filled vest.
The Jamaatul Ahrar, a splinter faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack and said the suicide bombing was carried out to target the members of the pro-government tribal Lashkar raised by the local people to fight the militants.
There were earlier conflicting reports about the nature of the blast. Some people claimed that unknown people had planted an explosive device that went off soon after the worshippers stood up for the Friday prayers. However, Assistant Political Agent Naveed Akbar told The News that it was a suicide attack.
“The suicide bomber shouted Allah-o-Akbar when the worshippers stood for the prayers and blew up amidst the faithful. The death toll was 25 while 35 others sustained injuries in the blast and subsequent collapse of the mosque,” Naveed Akbar said.
However, local sources said that 28 tribesmen were killed and more than 35 were injured in the suicide blast. The authorities had earlier hinted that the death toll could rise as some of the injured were in critical condition.
Naveed Akbar, the Assistant Political Agent, said the rescue operation was immediately undertaken and the injured were taken to a local hospital and also the Agency Headquarters Hospital in Khar, the headquarters of the nearby Bajaur Agency. He said some of the critically injured were transported to hospitals in Peshawar. Local tribesmen played an important role in the rescue activities and helped retrieve the bodies and the injured worshippers from the rubble. The area is inhabited by the Utmankhel tribe.
Eyewitnesses said a portion of the mosque and its verandah collapsed under the impact of the blast. It fell on the worshippers and caused several deaths. Some residents and relatives of the slain people said that most of the injured succumbed to their injuries when they were being taken to hospital in Bajaur Agency.
“The casualties would have been lower had the government made plans and cared to provide healthcare facilities in Anbar,” a frustrated tribesman Jamshed Khan told The News.The security forces later cordoned off the area and launched a search operation but no arrest could be made.
Tribal elders said it seemed the militants took revenge for the recent killing of one of their men who was a target killer. They said a local tribal Lashkar had killed a target killer and captured another alive and handed him over to the government. That incident had taken place a week before Eidul Azha when a pro-government tribal elder, Malik Muhammad, was shot five times by two men in the area. He later succumbed to his injuries in hospital. The members of the tribal Lashkar and villagers chased the attackers and managed to kill one of them with stones. The second attacker was injured and captured by the enraged villagers but the security personnel eventually got hold of him and took him away for investigation.
Though the political administration claimed the two men were hired assassins tasked to kill Malik Muhammad and others, the revenge attack at the mosque in Anbar Tehsil on Friday showed that they were militants and their death was being avenged by the Jamaatul Ahrar.
There have been other militant attacks also in the poppy-growing Anbar Tehsil, including one in which one Faisal, working for the narcotics affairs sections of the US embassy in Islamabad, was killed along with his driver about six months ago.
Following the suicide bombing on Friday, the security forces intensified checking at the entry and exit routes to Mohmand Agency. Medical Superintendent of Agency Headquarters Hospital Khar, Bajaur Agency Dr Khan Saeed told reporters that the political administration declared a state of emergency at the hospital after they were informed by the officials in Mohmand Agency about the suicide bombing at the mosque.
Meanwhile, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader and Member National Assembly from Bajaur Agency Shahabuddin Khan visited the hospital to enquire after the health of the injured. He directed the hospital administration to provide best medical care to the blast injured.
The deceased were identified as Noorullah, Wahab, Mazeer, Wahid Gul, Shahab, Naeem, Ibrahim, Nauman, Irfan, Hazrat Gul, Baseerullah, Rehman Shah, Rahim Gul, Rasul Khan, Zakirullah, Shakir, Zubair, Muhammad Zohaib, Wisal, Jamshed, Rizwan, Arab Gul, Fazle Rabbi, Fazle Wahid, Daud, Luqman and Farhad. Five among the dead were stated to be children. The injured included Juma Gul, Alam Khan, Rasul Muhammad, Raz Muhammad, Sabar Gul, Luqman, Saeedullah, Maseehullah, Ali Bahadur, Jaffar, Fazal Rabbi, Nausher, Amroz, Khursheed, Imran, Sameen Khan, Mukarram Khan, Nisarullah, Sher Ali, Bilal, Lal Mir, Ihsanullah, Khan Badshah, Dawar, Imran, Sherullah, Shakirullah, Sawab Gul, Mehrab Gul, Asal Muhammad and Awais.
Meanwhile, the Jamaatul Ahrar spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan in a phone call to reporters said: "We claim responsibility for the suicide attack on the mosque in Anbar sub-division. These people had raised a tribal lashkar in 2009 and killed our 13 fighters. Besides, these tribesmen had captured a number of militants from Swat and Bajaur tribal region in the past and handed them over to the government.”
The Jamaatul Ahrar is based in Afghanistan and is headed by Omar Khalid Khurasani, whose real name is Abdul Wali and belongs to Mohmand Agency. He along with his men fled Mohmand Agency and found refuge in Afghanistan after the government launched a military offensive against them in 2008.