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Taliban Slaughters Pakistan Military

December 6, 2009

Mosque massacre shows Taliban strength

Islamic extremists kill 36 officers, soldiers and family members in attack on Pakistani military

In a devastating assault on the Pakistani military, Islamic extremists yesterday attacked a mosque used by soldiers in Rawalpindi, killing at least 36 people, including senior military personnel and their children, as they gathered for Friday prayers.

Among the dead were five officers above the rank of major, including Major-General Bilal Umar, director-general of the Pakistan Armoured Corps. Also killed were a retired major and three rank-and-file soldiers.

Of the 17 children killed, at least 11 were the sons of army officers, including the son of a major-general and the sons of two brigadiers. The fathers of three senior officers, including the father of a major-general, were among the dead. More than 75 people were injured, including General Mohammad Yusuf, a former vice-chief of the Pakistani military.

Pakistan’s Western allies are constantly pressing the country to do more to aid the faltering campaign against Taliban extremists in Afghanistan. The message was repeated by U.S. President Barack Obama in his speech this week announcing an additional 30,000 troops for Afghanistan, but Islamabad insists it has its hands full dealing with its own domestic insurgency. Attacks such as yesterday’s will make it even less likely that Pakistan will turn its attention to Afghan insurgents that use its soil to attack NATO forces across the border.

The mosque, used exclusively by army personnel and their families, was located inside the heavily guarded cantonment area of Rawalpindi, surrounded by housing for army officers. The assailants – at least four in number – struck around 1:20 p.m., hurling grenades and opening fire on worshippers, before two of the attackers blew themselves up inside the mosque, wrecking the building and leaving the holy site stained with blood and littered with body parts. Security forces killed the two remaining assailants, who killed indiscriminately, the military said. However, there were rumours that an unspecified number of attackers got away.

Ameer Sheikh, a retired army officer who worships daily at the mosque and got to the scene immediately, said the attackers made their way through the mosque, finishing off the dazed and the wounded. “They got hold of their hair and shot them,” he said.

“I saw people who used to be in the front row with me, lying there dead,” Mr. Sheikh said. “I met a lot of army officers who had rushed there, desperately looking for their sons.”

Mr. Sheikh’s son, Nasir Ali Sheikh, who was in the mosque at the time of the attack, managed to slip out and hide in some bushes. He said the attackers also struck the women’s section of the mosque.

“It was very terrible inside,” Nasir Ali Sheikh said. “There were two people wearing belts with grenades and bullets. … For 15 to 20 minutes, we were helpless and hopeless.”

Reports late yesterday said that the main Pakistani extremist group, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, which is closely tied to al-Qaeda, had claimed responsibility for the attack.

Military and police officers are the favoured target for Pakistani jihadists , who have been waging war against the government since 2007. In a joint operation in October involving the Pakistani Taliban and jihadists from some of the country’s other extremist groups, gunmen stormed the military headquarters in Rawalpindi, about three kilometres from the mosque, in a 20-hour siege that left 14 people inside the complex and nine militants dead. Earlier this week, a bomber on foot tried to enter a naval complex in Islamabad but was stopped at the gates, where he blew himself up, killing two guards.

Pakistan is conducting an offensive against extremists in South Waziristan, a province on the Afghan border that is the base of the TTP and an important sanctuary for al-Qaeda. Since the launch of the operation in October, militants have gone on the rampage across the country, killing more than 400 people.

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