Landi Kotal: Suicide blast in mosque during Friday prayers
LANDI KOTAL: At least 47 tribesmen were killed and 70 others injured when a teenage suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque during Friday prayers in Jamrud tehsil of Khyber Agency.
Nobody has claimed responsibility for the attack, but Khyber Agency’s political agent Mutahir Zeb told Dawn that it might be the result of an ongoing fighting between the Taliban and Kukikhel tribesmen in Tirah valley.
“This is my assessment,” Mr Zeb said. He recalled that Kukikhels had killed and captured some men of the Tariq Afridi group of Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Tirah some time back. “The attack could be a retaliation for that,” he said.
The mosque is situated in an area inhabited by Kukikhel tribesmen. Haji Zarmin Khan, an eyewitness some of whose close relatives were among the dead, said the bomber struck seconds after the main Friday prayers had ended at the recently-constructed Shera Baaz mosque.
“I saw blood and human flesh splattered all around when I entered the mosque,” he said, adding that he removed seven bodies from the rubble.
Pallets from the bomb caused potholes in the walls of the main prayer hall which also developed cracks. Amirzada, a local tribesman, said some young boys had cautioned about the presence of the bomber, but it was too late. By that time the bomber had reached the main area of the mosque and detonated his explosives-filled jacket.
“Lucky, the roof didn’t come crashing down. Otherwise, the death toll could have been much higher because the mosque was jam-packed for the main Friday congregation,” Jamrud’s assistant political agent Khalid Mumtaz Kundi told Dawn. The mosque can accommodate up to 500 worshippers.
Most of the wounded had severe burn injuries. A bomb disposal official said the explosives might have contained lethal white phosphorous agent. “It is very, very lethal,” he said.
Soon after the blast, Khasadar and FC personnel cordoned off the area and removed the dead and the injured from the debris of the mosque.
Mr Kundi said most of the dead and the injured were taken to the Hayatabad Medical Complex and Khyber Teaching Hospital in Peshawar because of inadequate facilities at the Jamrud Civil Hospital.
He said the political administration had announced a compensation of Rs50,000 for the heir of each dead and Rs2,5000 for seriously injured people. He said it was in addition to the government compensation to be announced later.
Funeral prayers of a number of people killed in the attack were offered in Katiakhel and Madukhel areas. Most of the dead and the injured belonged to these areas.
The Kukikhel tribe has been resisting Taliban’s presence in Tirah valley. Twelve Taliban militants were killed when their vehicles were hit by roadside bombs in the area about four days ago.
At least 50 people were killed in almost an identical attack on a mosque, incidentally also on Friday, in Jamrud in March 2009.
Agencies add: Blood was splattered across the mosque’s main hall and walls, while the building’s doors and windows were destroyed and its ceiling fans mangled by the blast. Ball bearings used in the suicide vest were also scattered across the mosque.
TV footage showed blood on the walls and ceiling of the mosque as people collected clothes and sandals scattered by the blast. More than 500 people packed into the mosque and senior official of the Khyber administration Syed Ahmed Jan said the bomb had exploded seconds after the main Friday prayers ended.
Assistant political agent Mumtaz Kundi said: “It was a suicide attack. The bomber was wearing about 8-10kg of explosives and was on foot. He detonated in the main prayer hall.”
“All the evidence we have gathered confirms that it is a suicide attack,” said Fazal Khan, another local official. Gul Jamal Afridi, a truck driver, said he had been thrown to the ground in the intensity of the blast. “I saw smoke and fire.
People were dying and crying for help; some were running in panic. I saw body parts and human flesh, it was horrible,” he said.
Saqib Ullah, a 24-year-old student, said he had tried to help those lying near him after the bomb went off, but found most were already dead. “I saw my uncle lying in a pool of blood. I ran towards him and picked him up to carry on my back, but he had already died,” he said.
Saleem Khan, a witness, said people panicked after the blast, and that amid the smoke, cries and blood, several ran over him when he fell.
“Whoever did it in the holy month of Ramazan cannot be a Muslim,” he said from a hospital bed in Peshawar. “It is the cruellest thing any Muslim would do.” Iftikhar Khan, an official at the Hayatabad Medical Complex, said 40 wounded people had been rushed there alone.
Friday’s attack was the deadliest since May 13 when two suicide bombers blew themselves up outside a police training centre in a town about 30km north of Peshawar, killing 98 people.