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A bold attack by the Pakistani Taliban on a mosque inside an Air Force base outside Peshawar is the deadliest against the Pakistani armed forces since a massacre at a military-run school last December.
At least 17 people – mostly those in prayer – were killed in the attack, which led to an hours-long shootout. Some 13 assailants were also reported dead, according to The Associated Press. It's unknown if other attackers got away.
The attack demonstrates the Taliban’s resiliency and ability “to mount devastating attacks despite a military campaign and tougher government measures against them following the massacre of more than 150 people at an army-run school last December,” Reuters reports.
The attack began in the early morning when more than 10 militants entered the compound from two directions, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa said on Twitter. He said the men were immediately fired upon and at least one of the attackers was able to enter the mosque, according to The Washington Post. A captain was killed during the militant attack, and some 10 soldiers were wounded, reports The Wall Street Journal.
The compound, called Camp Badaber, no longer operates as a military facility, according to The Los Angeles Times. But it houses multiple air force officers and their families, as well as running two training schools.
"We were offering prayers when we first heard the gunshots and then, within no time, they entered the mosque where they began indiscriminately firing," Mohammad Ikram, a member of the Pakistani Air Force who was in the mosque at the time of the attack, told Reuters from the hospital.
The Pakistani Taliban, known as the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the attack Friday, saying it was in retaliation for military operations in the mountainous northwestern tribal region on the border with Afghanistan.
“[We] targeted officers of the infidels’ front-line air force, which rains fire and iron on Islam-loving Muslims across Pakistan, including the tribal areas,” the group said in a statement.
According to Reuters:
Attacks by the Taliban have fallen about 70 percent this year, following a military offensive against the militants' bases along the Afghan border and the government's redoubled efforts to combat them.
Despite the reduction in attacks, the militants still manage to strike high-value targets. The home minister of Punjab province was among 16 killed in a suicide attack last month.
Last February, the Taliban killed at least 20 people in a Shiite mosque in Pakistan. Two months earlier, the group murdered 150 people, mostly children, at a military-affiliated school in Peshawar.
In the aftermath, authorities vowed a tougher crackdown on the Taliban.
According to The Christian Science Monitor, the February attack on Shiite worshippers was part of an emerging tactic to engender more support for the Taliban:
The Taliban appear to be using religious minorities as “soft targets” in Pakistan – on the assumption that attacks on Christians and Shiite Muslims will win them sympathy with a local audience here that has been steadily radicalized over a number of years.