A suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque packed with people for Friday prayers in the Khyber region close to the Afghanistan border,killing at least 50 in one of the deadliest terror attacks in Pakistan that also completely destroyed the shrine.
About 100 people were injured in the attack on the mosque in Jamrud town in North West Frontier Province (NWFP) where 250 devotees had just begun prayers. The countrys worst strike this year came hours before US President Barack Obama was due to unveil a revised strategy against terror havens in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Assistant political agent Fida Bangash of Khyber Agency told television channels that at least 50 people were killed in the suicide attack. Among the dead were 15 members of the local political administration and the Khasadar force and a few security personnel.
Officials said the toll could rise since some victims were believed to be buried in the rubble. Some reports said 70 persons may have been killed.
The two-storey mosque,a popular stop for travelers motoring between Pakistan and Afghanistan and close to the border was completely destroyed,officials said.
According to Tariq Hayat,the top administration official in Khyber,the bomber was present inside the mosque and blew himself up when Friday prayers began. Some reports also said the attacker had rammed an explosive-laden vehicle into the mosque,which is located near a Khasadar checkpost.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack,but some reports said the deadly Tehrik-e-Taliban headed by Batullah Mehsud may be involved in the strike.
The mosque attack is the deadliest bomb blast in Pakistan since 60 people died in a suicide truck bomb at the five-star Marriott Hotel in Islamabad last September.
The entire building collapsed, a top security official said,referring to the temporary mosque,which had been set up by the local police and paramilitary troops who have a camp in the surrounding area of the remote,mountainous Khyber.
About 30 personnel from the local Khasadar militia were in the mosque at the time of the blast,and officials said they could have been the target of the attack.
Television footages showed anxious people digging frantically through the debris with bare hands to pull out the injured and the dead. Rescuers hauled bodies covered in dust and blood on blankets and scarves toward ambulances and private cars waiting to take them to hospital.
Witnesses said some of the bodies were beyond recognition. Many of the injured were critical.
Security forces sealed the strategic Pakistan-Afghanistan highway soon after the blast. The injured were taken to hospitals in Jamrud and Peshawar.
Jamrud lies in the Khyber region near the Afghan border where militants have intensified attacks on trucks carrying supplies to NATO and US forces in Afghanistan.
The area is also witness to bloody feuds among various tribal and militant factions.