At least 25 people were killed and another 50 injured when a suicide bomber targeted a mosque in the Mohmand tribal region of northwest Pakistan during Friday prayers.
The bomber entered the crowded mosque and shouted “Allahu Akbar” before detonating explosives attached to his body. Officials said they feared the death toll could rise as some of the injured, including children, were in a serious condition.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack at Payee Khan, a village in Mohmand Agency that is part of the lawless Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) bordering Afghanistan.
Confirming the incident, the assistant political agent of the semi-autonomous region told the media that the mosque was in Anbar tehsil. “It was a suicide blast,” the official quoted a witness as saying.
The attack occurred in an area believed to be controlled by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Naveed Akbar, the deputy administrator of Mohmand Agency, said some deaths were apparently caused when part of the mosque caved in from the force of the blast. “A portion of the mosque and verandah collapsed in the blast and fell on worshippers. We are still retrieving bodies and the injured from the rubble of the mosque,” he said.
Tribal elder Haji Subhanullah Mohmand said the attack may have been carried out by militants seeking revenge after local tribesmen raised a volunteer force and killed one insurgent and captured another.
“It seems to have enraged the militants and they got their revenge by carrying out a suicide attack in a mosque today,” Mohmand said.
Pakistan’s frontier regions, which are deeply conservative and hard to access due to rough terrain, have long been the sanctuary of fighters from al Qaeda, the Taliban and other militant groups.
In 2014 the army launched an operation in other parts of FATA, including North and South Waziristan, against insurgents who routinely attacked officials and civilians.
Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned the bombing and said the “attacks by terrorists cannot shatter the government’s resolve to eliminate terrorism from the country”.
Security in Pakistan has improved in recent years – the military says “terrorist incidents” dropped from 128 in 2013 to 74 last year – but extremists continue to stage major attacks.
A bombing in Quetta, which killed 74 people last month, was claimed by both the Islamic State and Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a breakaway faction of the Taliban.
(With inputs from agencies)