A suspected Taliban suicide attack on a mosque near Pakistan’s army headquarters killed at least 36 people and wounded dozens of others today.
It was the latest in a wave by Islamist insurgents that has left more than 400 dead in Pakistan since October, and a bloody reminder of the resilience of militant networks despite army offensives in the regions bordering Afghanistan.
At least four attackers took part in the assault inside a heavily fortified area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi just a few miles from the capital Islamabad.
Two of the militants entered the mosque, which had up to 200 worshippers inside, while others ran into buildings nearby. Security forces exchanged fire with the assailants for an hour before they blew themselves up.
Nasir Ali Sheikh saw the attackers as he walked to the mosque to pray. He said they were dressed in traditional Pakistani clothing of loose pants and a long tunic and carried hand grenades, automatic weapons and ammunition belts slung around their shoulders.
“They were killing people like animals,” he said. “I couldn’t understand what was happening.”
The mosque’s walls and prayer mats were covered in blood and shattered glass littered the floor.
The attack was the third in Rawalpindi in the last two months. In the most high-profile incident, a team attacked the army headquarters on October 10 and held dozens hostage in a 22-hour stand-off that left nine militants and 14 other people dead.
Today’s attack began when several gunmen staged an explosion to break through a checkpoint close to the mosque.
Two of them were able to enter the mosque and sprayed the congregation with gunfire and grenades.
Violence in Pakistan has escalated since the army launched an offensive in mid-October against Taliban in the north-western tribal area of South Waziristan near the Afghan border.
Soldiers have pushed deep into what was a militant stronghold, but many insurgents appear to have fled.