PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber killed 67 people Friday at a mosque frequented by tribal elders opposed to the Pakistani Taliban. Hours later, three people died in a grenade attack on another mosque associated with anti-Taliban militia.
The strikes in northwest Pakistan were a reminder of the potency of the Taliban and their al-Qaida allies along the Afghan border despite U.S.-backed army offensives. The Obama administration believes success against insurgents there is key to its hopes of winning the war in Afghanistan.
The Pakistani army has supported the creation of militias to fight the Taliban, who are unpopular in many parts of the northwest. The groups know the region and its inhabitants and are seen as useful in securing cleared areas or stopping militants from moving into their districts.
The insurgents regularly target these groups with suicide attacks and warn residents not to join up with them. On two occasions this year suicide attackers have killed about 100 people attending militia events, while dozens of others have been killed in smaller strikes.
Friday's first attack happened at midday in the town of Darra Adam Khel, a militant stronghold which lies on the edge of Pakistan's semiautonomous tribal region.
The bomber, who authorities said appeared to be a teenager, ran into the mosque where several hundred worshippers were gathered for midday prayers on the holiest day of the week. He detonated explosives around his waist.
Survivors bundled the victims into cars and rushed them to hospitals in Peshawar, the main city in the northwest and a one hour's drive away.
At one hospital, a woman beat her head in grief while two elderly men in blood-soaked clothes lay in a corridor.
"The blast tossed me up, then I fell down," Mohammad Usman, a 32-year-old schoolteacher with wounds to his head and arms said from his hospital bed. "Later, it was just like a graveyard."
Local government official Shahid Ullah said tribesmen running an anti-Taliban militia often met at the mosque, but they were not there on this particular Friday. Another official, Saeed Khan, said 67 were killed and 100 others were wounded.
It was the deadliest suicide bombing since a pair of attackers killed 102 people and wounded 168 in the Mohmand tribal region in July. That blast targeted tribal elders resisting the Taliban who were meeting a government official.
GEO News TV reported that the Pakistani Taliban, an umbrella group of local militants based in the tribal region, claimed responsibility for Friday's attack. The Taliban's spokesmen did not immediately respond to calls from The Associated Press seeking comment.
Later on Friday, three hand grenades exploded during evening prayers at a mosque in Peshawar's Badhber district, 22 kilometers (14 miles) from the first attack. Along with three dead, 24 people were wounded, said police official Ejaz Khan.
Provincial Information Minister Mian Iftikhar Hussain said that attack was a "reaction to the successes" of an anti-Taliban militia, known as a lashkar, in Badhber.
"No police or government can be successful without the people's support. We need these lashkars. We will support them to eradicate terrorism," said Hussain, whose only son was killed by militants earlier this year.
Allied to insurgents in Afghanistan, the Pakistani Taliban have carried out scores of attacks over the past three years against army, government and foreign targets and allegedly trained the Pakistani-American who attempted to blow up a car bomb in Times Square this year.
The Taliban and other militant outfits have often struck mosques where their enemies gather, unconcerned that this may make them unpopular in this Muslim nation.
Also Friday, a private plane chartered by an Italy-based oil company crashed near the airport in Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, after the pilot warned of engine trouble, officials said. All 21 people on board, including an Italian, were killed.