A TALEBAN attack on a Pakistani military base on the outskirts of the city of Peshawar yesterday killed 20 people, including 16 worshippers who were gunned down when the militants stormed a mosque inside the compound during prayers.
The attack triggered an hours-long firefight at the base and the Pakistani forces said they killed 13 of the attackers, though it was unclear how many were involved in the assault. Apart from 16 slain inside the mosque, three guards employed with the air force and an army captain were also killed, officials said.
The attack was a major blow for Pakistan’s military, which stepped up operations against the militants following a horrific Taleban attack last December at a Peshawar school that killed 150 people, mostly children. It also underscored the ability of militants to stage spectacular attacks on targets linked to the country’s military and government.
In yesterday’s assault, the attackers first stormed the guard room of the Badaber base, according to air force officials. The base was established in 1960s as an air force facility but has mostly been used as a residential site for air force employees and officers from Peshawar.
Army spokesman Major General Asim Saleem Bajwa said 13 attackers were killed by the security forces. He said the attack was quickly repulsed and that the bodies of the slain “terrorist” were lying on the ground in the base compound.
However, details about how the Taleban managed to make their way into the mosque, which is inside the compound walls, and gun down 16 people during prayers were sketchy.
Bajwa said the militants entered the base from different directions in a two-pronged assault – apparently one push targeted the mosque – but that security forces quickly responded.
It was also unclear if any of the attackers got away.
According to Bajwa, and a statement released by the air force, along with those killed, ten soldiers were wounded in the firefight with militants, along with an unspecified number of civilians.
The dead and most the of wounded were taken to a military hospital in the area, where access was barred to reporters.
Five wounded security personnel and two civilians were taken to the main government hospital in Peshawar. It was not immediately clear whether the army would allow media access to the base, once it has been cleared.
One of the wounded security officials, Mohammad Rizwan, said he was coming out of the mosque when he was hit by a bullet.
“I fell down and I saw some of the attackers, but I don’t know what happened later, I fell unconscious,” he said.
A wounded soldier, Akram Ullah, said from his hospital bed that he was inside the mosque and that he remembers seeing a gunman with a grenade come in.
Fayaz Hussain Chaudhry, father of slain army Captain Asfand Yar, told the Dunya news TV station that his son gave his life for his country. “He fought at the front of the battle today and he killed terrorists,” he said.
Shortly after the attack, a suspected US drone strike hit a home in the South Waziristan tribal region, south of Peshawar, killing at least three militants and wounding five, according to two Pakistani security officials.
Prime minister Nawaz Sharif and the country’s powerful army chief, General Raheel Sharif, rushed to Peshawar and attended some of the funerals of the victims. According to Muslim tradition, the deceased are buried as soon as possible.