Militants Kill 36 In Attack On Pakistan Mosque

Six army officers and three soldiers were among 36 people killed in Pakistan where militants stormed a mosque popular with the military in the city of Rawalpindi. It is the latest in a string of attacks by militants that has killed more than 400 people since October.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Pakistan today, militants stormed a mosque in Rawalpindi. That's the town where the army is headquartered. They killed at least 36 people. Senior military officers and their children were among the victims; they had gathered for Friday prayers.

NPR's Julie McCarthy went to Rawalpindi in the aftermath of the attack.

JULIE MCCARTHY: Eyewitnesses say Friday's sermon had just ended. The faithful rose for the start of prayers, a loud blast shattered their quiet ritual as militants lobbed explosives into the crowded mosque and opened fire.

(Soundbite of helicopters)

MCCARTHY: Within minutes, helicopters swarmed overhead as ambulances and trucks carrying commandos raced through the cordoned off area.

(Soundbite of a siren)

MCCARTHY: Army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said the assailants breached the residential colony where retired and serving officers live and worship. Abbas called it a gory tragic incident that killed at least 16 children, 10 civilians and 10 officers, including a brigadier.

Major General ATHAR ABBAS (Pakistan Army Spokesman): Most of them were offering prayers when four terrorists, they entered the colony and they entered the mosque there. They first threw the grenades inside and then they started indiscriminate firing all around. Two of them then blew themselves up. And two of them were firing from the outside, and they were targeted by the security forces.

MCCARTHY: Eyewitnesses said the attackers, dressed in traditional loose-fitting trousers and tunics, entered the area with their weapons openly displayed. One survivor said: They were killing people like animals. Another told Dawn Television, They took the people by the hair and shot them.

The attack recalled the brazen raid on the complex of the Army general headquarters in Rawalpindi in October. Friday's assault was another blow to the military at a time when Pakistan's army is under increased pressure to eliminate militants in the tribal area along the Afghan border.

General Abbas said this latest terror attack is the militants' reprisal for the army's current offensive in South Waziristan.

Maj. Gen. ABBAS: And they are responding towards our cities and towns and soft areas, soft targets, and also security forces.

MCCARTHY: The targeting of a mosque struck many here as so excessively sacrilegious, that they could not comprehend that the attackers could be Muslim or Pakistani. Gibran Khan says his countrymen's Islamic faith does not allow them to kill other Muslims.

Well, who do you think did it if they weren't Pakistani?

Mr. GIBRAN KHAN: Basically, you know what I think about this? These are external forces who are just trying to make us weak, trying to cut the dignity which we had.

MCCARTHY: The sort of denial prevalent on the streets of Rawalpindi today is, according to political commentator Kamran Shafi, part of a long history here.

Mr. KAMRAN SHAFI (Political Commentator, Dawn Newspaper): We've denied that we've set up these terrorists in the first place. We've denied that we use them in Kashmir. We've denied that we've used them in Afghanistan. We've always denied these things. We don't face up to reality. We don't face up to facts.

MCCARTHY: If the country does not come together after this attack and resolve to end extremism, Shafi said, we never will.

Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Islamabad.

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