CHARSADDA, Pakistan (Reuters) - A suicide bomber killed 48 people in a mosque in northwest Pakistan on Friday where a former interior minister was offering Muslim Eid festival prayers with worshippers, the government said.
The former minister, Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao, survived unhurt but at least 80 people were wounded in the blast in Charsadda district in North West Frontier Province. Several of the wounded were in a critical condition, Interior Ministry spokesman Colonel Javed Lodhi told Reuters.
Sherpao, who was interior minister in President Pervez Musharraf’s recently dissolved government and who is now running in January 8 parliamentary elections, was the likely target of the attack at the mosque in his home village, the government said.
Sherpao, who heads a small pro-Musharraf political party, escaped unharmed but his son was injured. Sherpao had been injured in April in another suicide attack at a public meeting in Charsadda.
Body parts and shoes were scattered around the mosque floor covered in pools of blood. Police found parts of a jacket, believed to belong to the attacker, and ball bearings aimed at causing maximum damage.
The suspected bomber, sitting in a middle row among the worshippers, detonated his bomb as prayers ended and people gathered around the politician to greet him, said a police official who asked not to be named.
“It’s inhuman. No Muslim can do such a thing on the day of Eid,” said Mohammad Asad, 45, who lost his two cousins in the attack.
Around 1,200 worshippers were at the mosque at the time of the explosion.
“We feel that Sherpao was the target. There are so many mosques in that area. Why did the bomber select that mosque for the attack?” Federal Secretary of the Interior Syed Kamal Shah said.
There has been a rash of suicide attacks blamed on Islamist militants since a military assault on the Red Mosque, a militant stronghold, in Islamabad in July.
More than 800 people have been killed in the ensuing violence across the country, about half of them in suicide attacks.
“It was a huge explosion,” said Mohammad Mukhtiar, a worshipper in the mosque.
Later on Friday, 38 people were buried in the village while some body parts were collectively buried in a separate grave.
Musharraf, a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, cited growing militancy as a main reason behind his imposition of emergency rule on November 3.
Musharraf, who said hours after lifting emergency rule last weekend that the government had “broken the back” of the militancy, condemned Friday’s attack.
President Hamid Karzai of neighboring Afghanistan, who is due to visit Pakistan soon, described the bombing as entirely un-Islamic.
“This once again illustrates that terrorism is a common threat to both Afghanistan and to Pakistan and not just the two nations, but also a threat to humanity,” Karzai said in a statement.
Additional reporting by Augustine Anthony and Kamran Haider in Islamabad; writing by Alistair Scrutton; editing by Roger Crabb