PESHAWAR: A suicide bomber targeted a Shia mosque in northwest Pakistan yesterday, killing 25 people and wounding more than 50 as worshippers poured out of weekly prayers, officials said.
Two of the dead were policemen.
The bomber detonated explosives packed into a motorcycle in a narrow lane containing Masjid Faizullah, frequented by Shias and Masjid Purdil by Sunnis in the town of Hangu, the latest bloody sectarian attack in a country where violence is on the rise.
Pools of blood and pieces of human flesh littered the street after the attack, which also destroyed at least five shops, witnesses said.
“It was a suicide attack which targeted Shias but Sunnis also fell victim since their mosque and some shops were very close to the site,” district police chief Mian Muhammad Saeed said.
“We have found the head of the bomber, who came there on a motorbike,” he said, adding six of the wounded were in a critical condition.
Officials, however, said the anti-Taliban Sunni Supreme Council often holds its meetings in the Sunni mosque, which made it a possible target.
Police said the bomb exploded as Shias were leaving prayers and Sunnis were going into their mosque for the weekly sermon.
Hangu, in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province in the northwest, has long been a flashpoint for violence against Shias, who make up about 20 percent of Pakistan’s population of 180 million.
Hangu is close to Parachinar, which has a significant Shia population against whom Sunni militant groups have launched attacks for years.
It is close to the semi-autonomous tribal belt on the Afghan border where Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants have carved out strongholds.
Muzammil Hussain, a 28-year-old Shia wounded in the head and hand, said that he heard the blast as he left the mosque.
“As soon as I reached the mosque exit, a huge blast rocked the area. Many people fell on me under the impact of the explosion,” he said by telephone from the District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) in nearby Kohat.
“I saw red and bloodied pieces of human flesh everywhere. It was a scene I’d never seen in my life. I was half conscious when people shifted me to a local hospital from where my family took me to the DHQ,” he added.
Police constable Raaz Muhammad, who took part in rescue efforts, said the blast damaged two shops selling cosmetics and three trading in vegetables.
“I could see pieces of human flesh and big blood stains on the boundary walls of the mosques and nearby shops,” he said.
“The entire street in the crowded Pat Bazaar area was littered with sandals and caps of the people who were coming out of the mosque,” he added.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
On January 10, a twin suicide attack killed 92 Shias from the Hazara ethnic community in the southwestern city of Quetta — the worst single attack on Shias in Pakistan.
Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Pakistan’s most extreme Sunni terror group, claimed responsibility for that attack. It is linked to Al Qaeda and the Pakistani Taliban, Sunni fundamentalists fighting an insurgency against the government since 2007.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says it documented a sharp escalation in persecution of religious minorities in Pakistan in 2012, which it called the deadliest year on record for Shias, with over 400 deaths in targeted attacks.
Activists accuse the government of failing to protect Shias and say the perpetrators operated with impunity because the judiciary failed to prosecute them.
“Pakistan’s human rights crisis worsened in 2012 with religious minorities bearing the brunt of killings and repression,” Ali Dayan Hasan, Pakistan director at HRW, said in the group’s annual report.
“The government needs to show some backbone and act urgently to protect vulnerable communities such as the Hazara, or risk appearing indifferent or even complicit in the mass killing of its citizens,” he added. Agencies