, ISLAMABAD, Jun 12 – A prominent anti-Taliban cleric was among at least six people killed in two simultaneous suicide bombings at Pakistani mosques on Friday in a day of bloodshed that claimed nearly 80 lives.
The bombings during Friday prayers came as fears grew that Taliban militants were taking revenge for a major offensive against them in the northwest where the military said Friday 39 insurgents and 10 soldiers were killed in the latest fighting.
Religious scholar Sarfraz Naeemi, who had spoken out against Taliban suicide bombings, was among two people killed in one of the attacks at a mosque in the eastern city of Lahore, Pakistan’s cultural and political heartland, police said.
In the other attack, four people died and at least 90 were wounded when an explosives-filled car ploughed into a mosque in the northwestern garrison town of Nowshera just as people had gathered for Friday prayers, police said.
"We have received four dead bodies and 90 injured in the hospital," doctor Sabz Ali of Nowshera’s main government hospital told AFP.
"We have declared an emergency in the hospital, some of the injured are serious and we urgently need blood for them," Ali said.
The roof of the mosque caved in after the blast and a number of people were trapped under the rubble, police official Imran Kishwar told AFP.
"We have started rescue work on site, we are facing difficulties as people are trapped under the debris of the roof," Kishwar said and added that "some of the injured are in serious condition and death toll may rise."
The attack targeting Naeemi, the head of the Jamia Naeemia madrassa, took place in Lahore’s Garhi Shahu neighbourhood, officials said.
Lahore police chief Pervez Rathore said that a suicide bomber entered the room where Naeemi was sitting with others after Friday prayers, and blew himself up. He said two people were killed in the blast.
"Sarfraz Naeemi was seriously injured and shifted to hospital where he passed away," provincial police chief Tariq Saleem Dogar told reporters.
Lahore administration chief Sajjad Bhutta told reporters it appeared likely that Naeemi was targeted because of his support for the military operation aimed at flushing the Taliban out of Swat valley in the troubled northwest.
Naeemi had issued a fatwa (edict) against suicide bombings carried out by Taliban militants.
Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani "strongly condemned" the attacks and ordered an inquiry, the Associated Press of Pakistan reported.
The bombings are the latest in a string of attacks widely seen as revenge by the Taliban for a punishing military offensive launched against insurgents around Swat valley on April 26.
At least 39 Taliban and 10 soldiers were killed in fierce fighting in the Malakand region of Swat valley during the last 24 hours, the military said Friday. Another 24 troops were wounded, it said in a statement.
The death tolls could not be verified independently.
The campaign in and around Swat was launched under US pressure after Taliban fighters advanced to within 100 kilometres (60 miles) of Islamabad, flouting a deal to put three million people under sharia law in exchange for peace.
Pakistan’s tribal zones harbour Taliban and Al-Qaeda rebels who fled the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, and Washington has said militants are using the lawless areas to regroup and plan attacks on the West.
At least 20 people were killed in other clashes and attacks in northwest Pakistan Friday, police said.
In one incident early Friday a gunman was killed and five others arrested after they opened fire on a police checkpoint in Peshawar, police said.
At least nine people were killed in a suicide bombing at a luxury hotel in Peshawar earlier this week.
So far 1,429 militants and 126 soldiers have been killed since military operations were launched in late April.
Taliban-linked attacks have killed more than 1,960 people in Pakistan since July 2007.