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Scores Killed In Attack On Pakistani Shi'ite Mosque

A relative of one of the victims of the attack reacts at a local hospital in Peshawar on February 13.

Militants have attacked a Shi'ite mosque in northwestern Pakistan, killing at least 19 people and wounding dozens of others.

Worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers in the Imamia Mosque in the city of Peshawar on February 13 when the militants threw hand grenades inside the mosque and opened fire.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.

Syed Shabbit Shah, an eyewitness, told Radio Mashaal the attack happened just before the Friday afternoon prayers ended.

"First they threw seven to eight hand grenades, then started firing, and it continued. [The militants] attacked our volunteers outside [the mosque], and when they finished the security line, they came inside," he said. "They were clad in black police uniforms. They came into the mosque and started firing. The people praying stood up and snatched the weapons from the attackers. In the meantime, a suicide attacker came in, and there was a [suicide] blast."

Pakistani security personnel inspect the Shi'ite Muslim mosque after the attack.
Pakistani security personnel inspect the Shi'ite Muslim mosque after the attack.

The head of the provincial police, Nasir Durrani, says four or five attackers entered the mosque from a building next door that was under construction, then jumped over an outer wall into the mosque courtyard.

Durrani says one person blew himself up, creating a diversion so the other attackers could enter the mosque.

The police chief says at least three attackers died in the violence — two by blowing themselves up and one who was killed by worshippers at the mosque.

Durrani praised the worshippers' "great courage," saying they grabbed one of the attackers by his neck, preventing him from detonating his explosives.

"The dead body of the suicide bomber is in the mosque [hall,] and the body of the other one is in the courtyard. The body in the courtyard is intact," he said.

Some eyewitnesses say at least some of the attackers were wearing police uniforms.

Television footage showed people running from the area as thick smoke billowed and ambulances took away the wounded.

It was not known how many worshippers were present at the mosque. Police say authorities are examining the scene.

The Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. In an email to Pakistani journalists, Muhammad Khorasani, a purported TTP spokesman, said the attack was revenge for the recent execution of Taliban militants.

The attack in Peshawar comes two weeks after a suicide attack on a Shi'ite mosque in southern Pakistan killed 61 people, the deadliest sectarian incident to hit the country in nearly two years.

Pakistan has suffered rising sectarian violence in recent years, most of it by hard-line Sunni Muslim groups against minority Shi'a.

Shi'a make up about 20 percent of Pakistan's more than 180 million, majority-Sunni population.

With reporting by AP, AFP, dpa and Reuters