By Ajit Kumar Singh
Continuing their assault on religious places across Pakistan, Islamist terrorists killed at least 98 people, including 18 children, and injured another 87, in two separate attacks on November 5, 2010. In the first incident, a 16-year-old suicide bomber attacked a Friday congregation at the Sunni Wali Mohammad Mosque in the Darra Adamkhel area of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP, formerly known as North West Frontier Province), immediately killing 65 people and injuring 70. The death toll increased to 95, after 27 of the injured died on November 6.
The mosque is located about one kilometre from the main Security Forces’ (SFs) camp set up in a degree college.In the second incident, at least three persons were killed and 17 were injured in a grenade attack on a Sunni mosque in Sulemankhel area of Badbher near Peshawar, the Provincial capital of KP. The assailants attacked the mosque with two grenades when isha (evening) prayers were being offered there. Earlier, on October 25, a bomb explosion at the eastern gate of the Baba Farid Shrine (a Sufi shrine) in Pakpattan District of Punjab killed at least six persons, including three women, and injured several others.
According to partial data compiled by the Institute for Conflict Management, a total of 929 persons have been killed, and at least 1,930 have been injured in 61 such incidents since 2002. These include 37 major incidents, each accounting for three or more than three fatalities. While KP has recorded the maximum number (21) of such attacks, it is followed by Punjab (13), FATA (11), Sindh (11), Balochistan (4) and Pakistan occupied Kashmir (1).
Both fatalities and the number of incidents have witnessed an year by year rise since 2007, when Islamist terrorism gained momentum within Pakistan, in the aftermath of the Lal Masjid Operation. While 85 persons were killed in six such incidents in 2007, 2008 witnessed 100 killings in 12 incidents. In 2009, the number of fatalities spiked to 277 in 17 attacks at places of worship. 2010 has, so far (till November 7), already seen 278 fatalities in 10 incidents. Some of the most prominent attacks since 2002, involving 20 or more killings, include:
August 23, 2010: 26 persons, including a former member of the National Assembly (NA) were killed and 40 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up inside a Sunni mosque in Wana town of South Waziristan Agency in FATA.
May 28, 2010: At least 100 worshippers were killed and 92 others injured as seven assailants, including three suicide bombers, attacked Ahmadiyya places of worship in the Model Town and Garhi Shahu areas of Lahore in Punjab.
February 18, 2010: At least 30 persons, including a Lashkar-e-Islam ‘commander’, were killed and 110 others injured in a suicide attack near a Sunni mosque in Akakhel area of Tirah valley in the Khyber Agency of FATA.
December 4, 2009: 40 persons, including 17 children, besides serving and retired Army officers and personnel, were killed and over 86 injured, when a Friday congregation at the Parade Lanes (Sunni) mosque in Rawalpindi in Punjab was attacked by a group of terrorists.
June 5, 2009: A suicide bomber killed 49 worshippers, including 12 children, at a Sunni mosque in a remote village of the Upper Dir District of KP.
April 5, 2009: A suicide bomber blew himself up at the entrance of an Imambargah (Shia place of worship) at Chakwal in Punjab province, killing 24 people, including three children, and injuring 140 others.
March 27, 2009: 83 persons, including 16 Security Force (SF) personnel, were killed and over 100 were injured in a suicide attack on a Sunni mosque at Peshawar-Torkham Highway in the Jamrud sub-division of Khyber Agency in FATA.
February 5, 2009: 32 persons were killed and 48 others wounded when a suspected suicide bomber blew himself amidst a crowd of Shia worshippers outside a mosque in Dera Ghazi Khan in the Punjab Province.
December 5, 2008: A car bomb explosion outside an Imambargah near the Qisakhwani Bazaar in Peshawar killed at least 34 persons and injured more than 150.
December 21, 2007: At least 50 persons were killed and 80 others injured when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the midst of worshippers offering Eid al-Adha (the Festival of Sacrifice) prayers at the Markazi Jamia Masjid Sherpao, a Shia mosque, in Charsadda, 20-kilometres from Peshawar.
May 27, 2005: At least 25 people, including a suspected suicide bomber, were killed and approximately 100 sustained injuries by a powerful explosion at the Bari Imam shrine of the Shia sect located in vicinity of the diplomatic enclave in Islamabad.
October 1, 2004: At least 31 people were killed and 75 sustained injuries in a suspected suicide bombing during the Friday prayers at a Shia mosque at Sialkot in Punjab.
May 31, 2004: At least 24 worshippers were killed and 34 sustained injuries when a high-intensity bomb exploded during the evening prayers at a Shia mosque situated on the MA Jinnah Road in Karachi in Sindh.
July 4, 2003: At least 53 persons were killed and 57 were injured as three armed terrorists, including a suspected suicide bomber, attacked the Friday prayers at a Shia mosque in Quetta, capital of Balochistan Province.
Most of these attacks have been sectarian in nature, and have been carried out by Sunni terrorist groups such as the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) though their motivation varies. The suicide bombing in Darra Adamkhel, for instance, is believed to be the outcome of rivalry between two militant groups struggling for establishing their influence in the area. Darra Adamkhel is a major arms manufacturing hub. Security officials in Peshawar said they suspected that the Tariq Afridi Group led by the chief of the TTP in the Khyber Agency, Tariq Afridi, carried out the attack. Their target, the officials claimed, was the Government backed Momin Afridi group led by Momin Khan Afridi, which had raised a lashkar (army) and supported SF actions against militants loyal to Tariq Afridi. The TTP, however, denied having any hand in the attack and, instead, blamed ‘foreign agents’ fighting SFs in tribal areas.
On the other hand, claiming the May 28, 2010, attack at Lahore, the TTP Punjab Chapter had declared, “Congratulations to the whole nation on what the brave mujahedeen (holy warriors) did yesterday in Garhi Shahu and Model Town, Lahore. On the whole, we do like to encourage the nation for increasing such activities, like targeted killings of Qadianis, Shias, the political parties that support them, as well as law enforcement agencies, the Pakistan Army and other racist parties.” TTP spokesman Muhammad Omar, on May 29, had also warned the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM] of attacks, calling it a “terrorist wing of Qadianis and Jews” and adding, “They are responsible for destruction of the country and the nation. We are encouraging assassination attacks on everyone who is with the MQM.”
Regrettably, amidst reports of expected military operation in the North Waziristan Agency, the wrath of the terrorists against civilians allegedly supporting Government Forces is bound to grow and, consequently, so will the attacks. The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Government, for instance, on November 5, warned that the terrorists could carry out ‘more sabotage activities’ in parts of the Province and FATA. Religious places, being soft targets, are most at risks.
The attacks on places of worship reflect the virulence of Islamist and sectarian terrorism in Pakistan, as well as the utter failure of the state to protect its populations, and particularly its vulnerable minorities.
Ajit Kumar Singh, Research Fellow, Institute for Conflict Management