RAWALPINDI, Pakistan — A Taliban suicide squad targeted Pakistani military officers and their families praying at a mosque Friday close to army headquarters in a gruesome display of the militants' ability to strike at the center of power in this U.S. ally.
The barrage of bombs and bullets left 37 people dead, including seven senior officers and 17 children.
The deaths of so many top brass inside a heavily fortified area a few miles from the capital was a major coup for the Pakistani insurgents, who are under pressure as the army pushes an offensive against their stronghold of South Waziristan along the Afghan border.
By targeting a packed mosque during Friday prayers, the militants showed they care little about igniting a possible backlash in this overwhelmingly Muslim country.
The attack began shortly after 1:30 p.m. when the assailants lobbed hand grenades to break through a checkpoint close to the mosque, said Yasir Nawaz, a police official at the scene.
Witnesses said two of the militants then stormed the mosque, while others ran into buildings nearby. They wore suicide belts under traditional baggy Pakistani clothes, lobbed grenades and sprayed automatic weapons at worshipers.
At least four assailants took part in the attack. Security forces exchanged fire with the assailants for an hour, killing them or watching them blow themselves up.
The commander of the Pakistani Taliban in South Waziristan claimed responsibility for the attack, which killed a major general, a brigadier, a colonel, two lieutenant colonels, one major and a retired major.