At Least 30 Dead in Attack on Pakistani Mosque

Rawalpindi, Pakistan – At least 30 people were killed and scores wounded Friday in an attack on a mosque in a military area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Initial reports said that explosions and gunfire were used in the assault, which took place during Friday prayers at around 1:15 p.m. local time. Suicide bombers also may have been part of the attack. Authorities feared that several gunmen remained on the loose, and may have taken hostages.

Some reports put the death toll as high as 40. The mosque, in the military section of Rawalpindi, was said to have sustained extensive damage. Serving and retired military personnel use the mosque, which reportedly was packed at the time of the attack.

Police cordoned off the area and ordered residents to remain in their homes.

Authorities thought that a team of extremists was behind the attack. In October, an assault squad hit the military headquarters, which is a few minutes’ drive across Rawalpindi from the site of Friday’s attack.

Earlier this week, a bomber tried to enter the naval headquarters in Islamabad on foot but guards stopped him at the gates, where he blew himself up, killing two guards. Pakistani militants connected to al Qaida launched a war against their country in 2007, and the military and police officers are their favored targets.

Pakistan is fighting Islamic militants in the South Waziristan region, an area on the Afghan border that’s thought to be the epicenter of extremism in the country. The launch of that operation in October has provoked a wave of terrorist attacks across the country.

Pakistan’s Western allies are pressing the country to do more to help the failing campaign in Afghanistan, a message that President Barack Obama repeated in his landmark speech Tuesday, but Islamabad says it’s already stretched in dealing with its domestic insurgency.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)