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Pakistan mosque attack underscores bid to target military

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Vincent Thian/AP

(Read caption) Pakistani Army soldiers cordon off the area near a mosque after a suicide attack in Rawapindi, Pakistan on Friday.

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LAHORE, PAKISTAN – A coordinated attack on a mosque in the garrison city of Rawalpindi that left at least 40 dead and more than 80 injured on Friday may signal militants’ attempts to extract retribution on the families of Army personnel in response to Pakistan’s ongoing campaign against the Taliban.

In a worrisome development for authorities, the targeting of a mosque may point to the involvement of Punjab-based militant groups, who were once sponsored by the state but have in recent years turned their attention toward fighting Pakistan’s security forces.

“The sanctity of a mosque doesn’t matter much to Jaish-e-Mohammad [a Punjab-based militant group], given their history of sectarian violence,” says Rifaat Hussain, a defense analyst at Quaid-e-Azam University. The same group was believed to be behind an attack on the Army headquarters in Rawalpindi in October that left over 20 dead.

Analysts believe that groups like Jaish-e-Mohammad are deepening their links with the Pakistani Taliban, a traditionally Pashtun movement, and that most attacks that occur in the populous eastern province of Punjab are at least partly their work.

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