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Official says bomb blast in Pakistani mosque kills 15 during Friday prayers
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) ' A bomb exploded in a mosque in a Pakistani tribal region as hundreds were gathered for Friday prayers, killing at least 15 people and wounding dozens more, a government official said.
The attack came during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and despite a period of relative calm in the country, which has suffered numerous Taliban and other attacks in recent years.
The bomb went off in Ghundi, a village in the Khyber tribal region, a part of Pakistan's tribal belt. Khyber has long been a base for Islamist militants. It also is a key region for the U.S. and NATO, because a large portion of non-lethal supplies heading to U.S. forces in Afghanistan must cross through the region.
Some 300 people gathered for prayers Friday afternoon in the Sunni mosque, and many were on their way out when the bomb exploded, local administrator Iqbal Khan said.
"It is not clear what type of bomb it was," he told The Associated Press by phone. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing.
At least 15 people died, while 55 wounded were sent to one hospital alone, police official Zafar Khan said.
Live TV footage from a hospital in Peshawar, a major city that lies just outside Khyber, showed ambulances rushing in with victims from the mosque blast. At the scene of the attack, men walked through the shattered mosque, which was littered with broken glass.
Also Friday, two U.S. missiles struck a house in a tribal region that was once a Pakistani Taliban stronghold, killing four people, intelligence officials said.
The missile strike came as Pakistani-U.S. relations are seriously strained after to the unilateral American raid that killed al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden in a northwest Pakistan garrison town. The continued missile strikes, which Pakistan officially opposes, suggests Washington considers the tactic too valuable to give up.
Though Pakistan objects to the covert, CIA-run missile program, it has been believed to aid it in the past. The U.S. rarely acknowledges the program.
The two missiles hit a house Friday in Sheen Warsak village in the South Waziristan tribal area, according to two Pakistani intelligence officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters.
The identities of the dead were not immediately clear. Although U.S. officials insist the vast majority of victims in the strikes are militants, Pakistanis and some human rights activists have said civilians are often caught up in the attacks.
South Waziristan is a lawless stretch of rugged territory that was largely under the control of the Pakistani Taliban until October 2009, when the country's army launched an operation against the insurgents. However, militant activity is still occasionally reported in the region.
It is nearly impossible to independently verify the information from the region because access is heavily restricted.
Associated Press Writer Rasool Dawar contributed to this report from Islamabad.