40 killed in Rawalpindi in Pak mosque attack

Rawalpindi, Pakistan - At least 40 people were killed and 83 injured on Friday when suicide attackers stormed a mosque near army headquarters in Pakistan's Rawalpindi city spraying bullets on hundreds of Friday worshippers, including military personnel, and hurling grenades before blowing themselves up.

The attackers, who used ladders to clamber over the walls of the Jamia Masjid near Parade Lane, lobbed grenades and fired indiscriminately at worshippers. They also exchanged fire with the mosque's security guards.

There was confusion over the total number of terrorists involved in the attack. Some witnesses said seven to eight gunmen stormed the mosque, which was packed with Friday worshippers including serving and retired military personnel, while police and army officials put the number of assailants at five to six.

The military said at least four of the attackers either blew themselves up or were killed by security forces, while official sources were quoted as saying by TV channels that two terrorists exploded themselves in the mosque.

Regional Police Officer Aslam Tareen told reporters that 40 people were killed and 83 others injured in the attack, which came shortly after a roadside bomb targeted a bus carrying civilians in the troubled Mohmand tribal region in the country's northwest leaving six people dead and five others injured.

Security forces, including elite army commandos, launched a manhunt for the remaining attackers, who were believed to have sneaked into nearby residential neighbourhoods.

All roads in the area were blocked and soldiers carried out house-to-house searches as helicopters conducted aerial surveillance.

The search operations continued for over three hours after the attack in the mosque, which occurred shortly before 2 pm local time.

Witnesses said the attackers lobbed grenades before firing with automatic weapons. The firing was followed by powerful blasts, they said.

Hundreds of people were present in the mosque frequented by military personnel. "The attack was very well organised. You can't deny that. It was a planned attack and they proceeded according to their plan. They came to kill and be killed," said Capt (Retd) Amiruddin Sheikh, a witness.

The attackers were wearing white salwar kameez, he said. A part of the mosque was destroyed in the attack. Several ambulances were seen leaving the mosque complex with bodies and the injured.

There were reports that the attackers had taken hostages in the mosque but these were denied by officials. No group claimed responsibility for the attack. The Taliban have been blamed for a wave of recent attacks targeting security forces.

Today's mosque attack occurred in a sensitive area where an army hospital and police offices are located. The army's heavily-guarded General Headquarters, which was attacked by terrorists in October, is located a short distance from the mosque.

The attack came just two days after a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of the Navy Headquarters in Islamabad, killing two naval policemen.

Over 100 people have died in six terrorist attacks in Rawalpindi this year.

In the past few weeks, the Taliban have targeted security facilities and police training centres in Lahore and the provincial headquarters of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency in Peshawar.

The military, which launched a major ground offensive against Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan in South Waziristan tribal area in October, claims that over 600 militants have been killed in the fighting so far.