Updated at 10:40 a.m. ET
Taliban militiamen attacked an air force base in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 29 people, including more than a dozen attending Friday prayers at a mosque inside the military compound, but there are reports that the death toll could be higher.
NPR’s Philip Reeves says that 13 of the attackers were also killed in the assault on the Badaber base near Peshawar. He reports: “Pakistan’s military says the attackers broke into the base, and split up. It says some burst into a mosque, where early morning prayers were underway, and opened fire.”
The Associated Press says it is unclear whether any of the attackers escaped.
“A rapid reaction commando force rushed to the scene; there was a firefight in which an army captain was killed,” Philip says.
Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper quotes a military official at the base as saying that all the attackers “were wearing explosives-laden jackets and were armed with hand grenades, mortars, AK-47 rifles.”
“Nearby residents said explosions and gunfire could still be heard more than three hours after the attack took place,” the newspaper said.
In neighboring India, The Hindu newspaper quotes Mohamad Khurasani, a spokesman for the Pakistani Taliban, who claimed responsibility for the attack on behalf of the group.
“In a statement to the media, he said 14 Taliban fighters were involved in the assault. They offered ‘safe passage’ to women and children after attacking the base,” Khurasani said, according to the Hindu. “He added that the Taliban ‘targeted’ 50 security forces, without explaining what that meant.”
The frequency of Taliban attacks has dropped off in recent months, largely because of a concerted army offensive against the group’s strongholds in the mountains along the Afghan-Pakistan border.
Philip says that although the Taliban are thought to be weaker now, “the militants are signaling that their war against the state is not over,” he says. “Pakistan says the attack was mounted from nearby Afghanistan — an allegation that’ll make it’s already bad relations with Kabul even worse.”
The AP adds:
“The base was established in 1960s as an air force facility but has mostly been used as a residential place for air force employees and officers from Peshawar. …
“Shortly after the attack, a suspected U.S. drone strike hit a home in the South Waziristan tribal region, south of Peshawar, killing at least three militants and wounding five, according to two Pakistani security officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.”