A powerful suicide bomb was detonated near a mosque in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province on Friday, killing at least 52 and injuring 70 more at last report.
The mosque areas in both instances were crowded due to celebrations of Mawlid an-Nabi, a Pakistani national holiday commemorating the birth of Muhammad. Pakistani security officials said they were already on high alert because holiday crowds make inviting targets for terrorists.
Local officials counted 52 dead, divided between two hospitals, including a senior police official named Mohammad Nawaz.
“The bomber detonated himself near the vehicle of the Deputy Superintendent of Police,” said deputy inspector general Munir Ahmed. The police did not immediately release any information about the identity of the suspected suicide bomber, and none of several groups that might plausibly have conducted the terrorist attack stepped forward to claim responsibility.
Those groups include Tehreek-e-Taliban, the “Pakistani Taliban,” a group ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban that has grown more aggressive using American weapons abandoned in Afghanistan by President Joe Biden; the Islamic State, whose franchise in the region is known as ISIS-Khorasan Province or ISIS-K; and the growing separatist insurgency in Balochistan.
ISIS-K is suspected of carrying out a suicide bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in late July, killing 46 people and injuring over 150 by targeting a hardline Islamist political event. The Pakistani Taliban distanced itself from both of Friday’s bombings, claiming that it does not target mosques.
The Friday bombing in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa destroyed a small mud-brick mosque inside a police station. Rescue workers said a number of victims were trapped beneath the rubble. About forty people, mostly police officers, were reportedly praying at the mosque when the bomb detonated.
Pakistan’s interim Interior Minister Sarfaz Bugti, a legislator who has held the position since the old government was dissolved in August to pave the way for elections, “strongly condemned” the “heinous attack” in Balochistan.
“Attacking innocent people during the Eid Milad-un-Nabi procession is a terrible act. We’ll use all resources for rescue and relief operations, ensuring best medical care for the injured. We’re committed to a zero-tolerance policy,” Bugti said.
The Pakistani military said on Friday that two of its soldiers were killed in a gun battle with Pakistani Taliban insurgents who tried to sneak into Zhob, the southwestern district of Balochistan. Three of the militants were reportedly killed in the exchange of fire.
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