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Pakistan: 50 dead in bombing near Afghan border

The apparent suicide bombing is Pakistan's deadliest attack in months, striking in the sensitive Khyber tribal area at a crowded mosque during Friday prayers.

March 28, 2009|Zulfiqar Ali and Laura King
  • Pakistani tribesmen search for survivors after a blast destroyed a mosque near Jamrud, in the Khyber region near the Afghan border. The apparent suicide bombing came on the holiest day of the Muslim week, as the mosque was packed with worshipers.
Pakistani tribesmen search for survivors after a blast destroyed a mosque… (Mohammad Sajjad / Associated…)

PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN, AND ISTANBUL, TURKEY — A suicide bombing destroyed a mosque in Pakistan near the Afghan border Friday, killing at least 50 people and wounding more than 100, officials and witnesses said. Scores of people were missing in the rubble.

The attack, near the town of Jamrud in the Khyber tribal area, came on the holiest day of the Muslim week, as the mosque was packed with worshipers. In the aftermath of the blast, prayer caps, cellphones and sandals lay scattered on the rocky ground.

It was Pakistan's deadliest suicide bombing in months and underscored the rising violence that President Obama's new regional policy, unveiled Friday in Washington, is meant to address.

More than 200 people were inside the two-story mosque at the time of the explosion, which blew out the walls and sent the roof crashing down. Hours later, frantic and weeping survivors were still milling about, some of them tearing at the debris with bare hands, searching for relatives and friends.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but officials blamed Islamic militants. Insurgents have been steadily tightening their grip on the Khyber tribal area, through which a key route into Afghanistan passes.

The mosque was close to the main highway and was frequented by locals as well as travelers. It was also a popular place of worship with police and paramilitary troops stationed at a nearby checkpoint.

The ranking local official, Tariq Hayat Khan, told Pakistan TV that the bomber made his way into the mosque compound undetected.

Abdul Ghani, who was in the courtyard outside, said the blast tore through the building just as the cleric began leading prayers.

Ghani, 70, suffered minor cuts, but his son and grandson, closer to the explosion, were seriously wounded.

Fleets of vehicles -- cars, trucks, even motorcycles -- served as makeshift ambulances, evacuating people to hospitals. It was feared that the death toll would rise as searchers combed the wreckage.

Hospitals were overwhelmed, and doctors said some of the victims died en route to nearby towns or after arriving at hospitals in Peshawar, the provincial capital.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Ali is a special correspondent.

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latimes.com/world

Chaos at mosque

More photos of the devastation at the Jamrud mosque can be viewed online.

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