03/27/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Mosque attacked in Pakistan. At least 70 dead

A suicide attacker blew himself up shortly after the start of Friday prayers. There were more than 400 faithful present at the place of worship. The tribal areas on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan are the theater of a massive offensive by rebel groups, and of a sectarian struggle between Sunnis and Shiites.

Islamabad (AsiaNews/Agencies) - At least 70 have died, according to the initial tally from a suicide attack on a mosque in Jamrud, in a tribal area in northwest Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan. The place of worship was crowded with faithful who had gathered for Friday prayers.

At the moment, the authorities have recovered more than 48 bodies, but many others are still buried under the rubble; the powerful explosion demolished the mosque, burying everyone who was inside the building. Emergency personnel say there are more than 100 injured, many of them in serious condition, and estimate that there are at least 70 dead.

"The bomb exploded immediately after the prayer started," says Tariq Hayat, the governor of the region. He says there were more than 400 faithful in the mosque. "Rescuers are digging through the the rubble," and it is thought very likely that more bodies will be found over the next few hours.

Jamrud is in the territory of Khyber, one of the seven districts of the Federal Administration of Tribal Areas. These are administered by the federal government of Islamabad, but in fact are controlled by the Pashtun tribes that live there. Bands of Islamic extremists have been operating in the area for a long time, and have recently intensified their attacks on United States and NATO convoys operating in adjacent Afghanistan.

The tribal areas are also the theater of a sectarian struggle between Shiite and Sunni Muslims. Yesterday, 10 people died in a suicide attack at a restaurant in Jandola, in South Waziristan. At the basis of the attack was the rivalry among the various militant factions. Recently, Pakistani security forces have launched a massive campaign against extremist groups, without any results.

In the Swat valley, meanwhile, the campaign of "Talibanization" continues, with the progressive introduction of Islamic law, the result of an agreement between local fundamentalist groups and the government of the North-West Frontier Province.

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