A brazen terrorist attack involving seven militants has killed 40 worshippers in a crowded Sunni mosque on Friday in the Qasim Market neighbourhood in the Rawalpindi Cantonment. More than 36 persons have been confirmed dead (including 17 children) and over 71 seriously injured [last count at 5:00 AM, EST].
It is widely believed that the attack on the mosque, which is frequented by military personnel, is in retaliation of the military action against the Pakistan-based Taliban outfits in the North West Frontier Province. The militants arrived in a car and have reportedly used ladders to scale the compound’s walls to reach inside. The operation resembled an attack by commandoes, which raises the concern that the attack may have been perpetrated by individuals who had received military training.
The mosque is located in a neighbourhood popular with serving and retired military officers. Militants first threw grenades, later blasted a bomb in the mosque, and followed up by firing at the survivors. The cross-fire between the security forces and the surviving militants, who took refuge in a house near by, continued for hours after the initial attack.
The dead include the following military personnel:
- Constable Masud
- Constable Abdul Qayyum
- Major General Bilal Umar
- Director General Operations and Plans of the Joint Staff Headquarters
- Brigadier General Abdul Rauf
- Lieutenant Colonel Manzoor Saeed
- Lieutenant Colonel Fakhar
- Major Zahid
- Major (retd) Shoaib
- Deputy Director of the National Logistic Cell, Mr. Taskeen
The children of army personnel have also died in the attack. Those include Bilal Ryaz son of Maj. General Naseem Ryaz, Ali Hasan son of Colonel Shabbir Hassan, Hasan s/o Colonel Shukhran, Syed-ul-Hassan son of Lieutenant Colonel Fakhar. The injured include the former Vice Chief of Army Staff General (retired) Yousaf.
Victims lying in the hospital compound. AP/ B. K. Bangash
It is not yet clear if all militants are dead. While the army took position in the neighbourhood surrounding the mosque and exchanged gun fire, there are however conflicting reports suggesting that a couple of militants may have been able to flee from the scene.
Today’s attack is a continuation of a long tradition of attacks on places of worship in Pakistan. In the past, the Shiite minority was almost exclusively targeted by the fundamentalist Muslims who are mostly inspired by the extremist Islamic interpretations supported by Saudi Arabia.
The recent attacks are targeted on those Sunni mosques that are frequented by the military personnel. Earlier attacks included a suicide bombing of a mosque in Attock where the commandoes who participated in the Lal Masjid operation in Islamabad used to pray. A bus carrying personnel working for Pakistan’s intelligence agency was also bombed near Qasim Market in August 2007. More recently, another suicide attack at a nearby bank where retired military personnel collected their pensions killed 35 and injured scores more. The armed forces General Head Quarters, also located within 5 km of Qasim Market, was also stormed by the militants in October in which a brigadier general and several soldiers died.
Not to be forgotten is the attack on the Iranian air force cadets within kilometres of the Qasim Market in September 1997, which left five cadets dead. The militants responsible for the attack on the Iranian cadets belonged to Laskar-i-Jhangvi (LJ) outfit, which was then believed to have been an “asset” of Pakistan’s establishment. Riaz Basra, head of the LJ, called the newspapers after the attack on Iranians and claimed responsibility. He further demanded the release of an associate, Malik Ishaq, who had a $50,000 reward for his capture.
The same assets have now become liabilities. The intelligence agencies confirmed that the militants behind the attack on army’s headquarters were members of LJ.
Despite the violence and chaos that has ensued in Pakistan, the masses are still not unanimous against those extremists who have brought the war to Pakistan’s main street. Even after the bombings today, the religious scholars were busy denouncing India, Israel, and the United States for terrorism in Pakistan. Scapegoating in Pakistan has reached unprecedented heights.