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74 killed in attacks on 2 Pak mosques

Peshawar, Nov. 5 (AP): A suicide bomber struck a mosque frequented by anti-Taliban tribal elders in northwestern Pakistan during afternoon prayers today, killing at least 71 people in one of the deadliest attacks this year.

Later in the day, three grenade blasts killed at least three people at another mosque in the troubled Afghan border region.

The blasts were the latest to hit religious gatherings and underscored the relentless security challenge in the US-allied nation, where Islamist militants have managed to strike at the state and citizens who work against them despite pressure from army offensives.

In the first attack, the Sunni mosque’s roof collapsed as hundreds of worshippers were gathered inside for the most popular prayer session of the week, and many victims were trapped in the debris.

People in private vehicles rushed the wounded to hospitals in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest, TV footage showed. A woman was beating her head, while two elderly men in blood-soaked clothes rested in a hospital corridor.

The explosion occurred in Darra Adam Khel, an area famous for its illegal weapons bazaars and located near Pakistan’s tribal regions where Taliban-led militants have been active.

“The blast tossed me up, then I fell down,” Mohammad Usman, 32, a schoolteacher with wounds on his head and arms said from his hospital bed in Peshawar. “Later, it was just like a graveyard.”

Local government official Shahid Ullah said the mosque may have been targeted because local tribesmen running an anti-Taliban militia have often met there, though not on this particular Friday.

The Pakistani government has encouraged tribal leaders to set up militias to fight the insurgents, and the Taliban have frequently targeted those opponents.

GEO News TV reported that the Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, but the group’s spokesmen did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.

Ullah put the death toll at 71 and said 80 others were wounded. That made the attack the deadliest since September’s suicide bombing on a Shia procession in the southwestern city of Quetta, which killed 65. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for that strike.

Tonight, three hand grenades exploded during evening prayers at a Sunni mosque in the Badhber area on the outskirts of Peshawar. Along with three dead, the blast wounded 24 others, said police official Ejaz Khan.

Pakistani TV channels showed bloodied victims being rushed to the hospital.

Several shrines and mosques belonging to rival sects hated by the Taliban have been targeted in Pakistan this year. At least three such attacks occurred in October alone.

Provincial information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain called the militants “beasts” that are lashing out at Pakistan’s crackdown against them.

“This is part of international terrorism. America, Pakistan and Afghanistan are the main players, who need to work closely and more aggressively to root out this menace,” said Hussain, whose only son was killed by militants earlier this year. Pakistan is in the midst of multiple offensives against Taliban and linked militants in its northwest, including the tribal areas that border Afghanistan.

The US has praised the offensives, in hopes they will break the backs of at least some of the groups involved in attacks on American and Nato troops in Afghanistan. However, Pakistan has yet to mount an operation in North Waziristan, the tribal region where the most dangerous groups working against the US in Afghanistan have bases.

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