LANDI KOTAL, May 1: Seventeen people were injured, three of them seriously, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque in Bara tehsil of Khyber Agency on Thursday morning.

The incident, first of its kind in the agency, took place in the Takia-Bar Qambarkhel mosque, the headquarters of the armed religious group Amr Bil Maroof wa Nahi Anil Munkir.

Eyewitnesses said that Haji Namdar, the amir of the group, had just completed his daily Quranic lessons when a teenage boy approached him with a pistol in his hands.

“A young boy, said to be 16 to 17 years of age, used what appears to be a hastily assembled suicide jacket to attack Haji Namdar. The boy pulled out a pistol and at the same time triggered the explosives.

“Half of the jacket did not explode; otherwise there would have been many casualties,” Tariq Hayat, administrator of the Khyber tribal region, told Dawn.

The identity of the boy was yet to be ascertained.

Eyewitnesses said that soon after Dars-i-Quran, the cleric appealed for donations. “The boy stood up from the middle of the crowd and walked up to Haji Namdar pretending to gift a pistol and the explosion took place,” they said.

The boy died on the spot while Haji Namdar escaped unhurt.

More than 500 people were in the mosque at the time.

Nobody claimed responsibility for the attack. Supporters of the cleric seized the body of the suicide bomber.

A witness said that the left hand and abdomen of the boy had been damaged, but the head and other parts of his body were intact.

Munsif Ali Khan, a spokesman for the group, told Dawn that the bomber appeared to be from outside Bara. He blamed Hakimullah, an associate of Baitullah Mehsud, for the attack.

Officials said Haji Namdar had links with the Taliban and was said to have fought along with the Taliban in the past.

They said the attack appeared to have been prompted by last week’s abduction of eight personnel of the Frontier Corps by Mehsud militants in South Waziristan and their subsequent release because of efforts made by Haji Namdar.

“Haji Namdar not only got them freed but also handed them over to the authorities. He also asked Mehsud militants, including Hakimullah, who is Baitullah Mehsud’s commander for Khyber and Orakzai, to leave Bara immediately,” the officials said.They said the Mehsud militants had kidnapped the FC personnel after failing to kidnap two officials of the World Food Programme.

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