By Haq Nawaz Khan and Karin Brulliard
Saturday, November 6, 2010; 12:59 AM
PESHAWAR, PAKISTAN - At least 64 people were killed in blasts at two Sunni mosques in Pakistan's restive northwest Friday, in the latest in a string of attacks on shrines and other places of worship around the country.
In the first attack, in a mosque outside the city of Peshawar, a teenage suicide bomber detonated his explosives during Friday afternoon prayers, causing the roof to collapse on hundreds of worshipers and killing at least 60 people, government and police officials said. It was the largest bombing in Pakistan since September, when a blast killed more than 60 people in the southwestern city of Quetta.
The second attack occurred a few miles away during evening prayers at a second mosque, where militants hurled three grenades and set off a bomb, police said.
Authorities said both attacks appeared to be aimed at villagers and tribal elders who had stood up to the Pakistani Taliban, a loose coalition of militants based in the rugged tribal areas bordering Afghanistan. The Pakistani television network GEO reported that the Taliban asserted responsibility for the first bombing, which occurred in the town of Darra Adam Khel.
A tribal elder who had organized residents against the Taliban lived in a guesthouse adjacent to the mosque and might have been the target, authorities said. Residents said he had moved to Dubai for security reasons.
In Badabher, where the second bombing took place, residents had organized a so-called peace committee to patrol against militants, who have targeted the area several times before.
The sites of both attacks border the tribal areas where the Pakistani military has waged various offensives in recent years against homegrown militants. Although the operations appear to have helped slow attacks, militants have continued to display their ability to strike across the country.
Several recent attacks have been aimed at Sufi shrines and institutions, the religious gatherings of minority sects and mosques affiliated with Taliban opponents, whose views hard-line Sunni groups consider abhorrent.
Officials said Friday that the Taliban was lashing out at the Pakistani military offensives.
"The militants are on the run and weakened by the security forces, and therefore they are hitting such weak targets," said Mian Iftikhar Hussain, information minister in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Brulliard reported from Islamabad.