- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 5, 2009

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan | Militants stormed a mosque near Pakistan’s army headquarters, killing at least 36 worshippers, including six military officers, during Friday prayers as they sprayed gunfire and threw grenades before blowing themselves up, officials said.

It was the latest in a wave of strikes by suspected Islamist insurgents that has killed more than 400 people in Pakistan since October.

The rampage in a heavily fortified area in the garrison city of Rawalpindi also brought the war home to the military brass, as insurgents persist with brazen attacks despite several army offensives against them in northwestern regions bordering Afghanistan.

A military statement said four attackers hurled grenades, then opened fire as they rushed toward the mosque, which was located on Parade Lane in a military residential colony just a few miles from the capital. Two suicide bombers then blew themselves up inside, while the other two militants were killed in an exchange of gunfire, it said.

The dead included a major general, a brigadier, two lieutenant colonels, one major and a retired major, as well as three regular soldiers, military spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas said. Seventeen children were among the dead.

Local station Geo TV reported that the Pakistani Taliban had claimed responsibility.

City residents said access to the mosque was mostly restricted to soldiers and their families.

Witnesses said two of the militants entered the mosque, which had up to 200 worshippers inside, while others ran into buildings nearby. The army prevented reporters’ access tothe scene, where security forces exchanged fire with the assailants for an hour before the militants blew themselves up or were killed.

The attack was the third in Rawalpindi in the last two months. In the most high-profile incident, a team of militants attacked the army headquarters on Oct. 10 and held dozens hostage in a 22-hour standoff that left nine militants and 14 other people dead.

Gen. Abbas said authorities were investigating how the attackers penetrated the stringent security ring surrounding the area.

It was the second attack against a military installation this week. A suicide bomber also struck the entrance of the navy headquarters in Islamabad, killing two security guards on Wednesday.

Violence in nuclear-armed Pakistan has escalated since the army launched an offensive in mid-October against Taliban militants in the northwestern tribal area of South Waziristan near the Afghan border. Soldiers have pushed deep into what was a militant stronghold, but many insurgents appear to have fled.

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