Terror makes macabre return to Peshawar

61 martyred in suicide bombing at mosque in high security police lines; 157 injured


Our Correspondent January 30, 2023
People and rescue workers lift a damaged portion to look for survivors under a collapsed roof, after a suicide blast in a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan January 30, 2023. PHOTO: REUTERS

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PESHAWAR:

At least 61 people, many of them policemen, were martyred and more than 170 sustained injuries after a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines during the afternoon prayers on Monday, police and medics said.

Officials confirmed that it was a suicide attack and that the bomber was standing in the front row at the time of the explosion. Peshawar Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Muhammad Ijaz Khan said the bomber detonated his load at the moment hundreds of people had lined up for prayers.

The latest attack targeting police ripped through the mosque during the prayers. The mosque is located inside a highly fortified compound in Peshawar that included the headquarters of the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) police force and the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD) offices.

“It was a suicide bombing,” Khan said. The attacker appeared to have passed through several barricades manned by security forces to get into the “Red Zone” compound, he added. An inquiry was under way into how the attacker breached the elite security cordon and whether there was any inside help.

Medics at the Emergency Department of the Lady Reading Hospital said that there were 44 martyrs and 157 injured brought to the hospital. Asim Khan, a spokesperson for the hospital later said in an update that the death toll rose to 61.

"So far we have received 61 bodies and 60 wounded persons are getting medical treatment. Dozens more wounded were sent to two other hospitals of the city," Asim Khan said. He added that the injured included police officials. “Some of the injured are in critical condition but most are stable.”

Following the bombing, the provincial health department declared emergency in the Peshawar district and asked all medical personnel to remain on duty. Asim Khan said that more injured were being shifted to the hospital, so the health facility had issued an appeal for blood donations.

Law-enforcement personnel cordoned off the site and have started an initial investigation, as police and local residents scrambled to remove debris from the blast site and carried wounded people on their shoulders, footage from the state-run Pakistan Television (PTV) showed.

Peshawar Commissioner Riaz Mehsood said a rescue operation was under way inside the mosque as a number of people were buried under the rubble. “We can’t say how many are still under it,” K-P Governor Haji Ghulam Ali later said.

CCPO Ijaz also confirmed by nightfall that “a number of policemen were still stranded under the rubble and rescuers were trying to pull them out.” The mosque hall was packed with up to 400 worshippers, and most of the dead were police officers,” he added.

When asked about the nature of the explosives, the CCPO told reporters that “the smell of explosives has been detected but it is too early to say anything substantial”. He added: “We have found traces of explosives.”

According to a preliminary investigation report, submitted to prime minister Shehbaz Sharif, the evidence collected from the blast site confirmed that the explosion was a suicide hit and a high-level committee had also been formed to investigate any security lapse, it added.

The blast brought down the upper storey of the mosque, trapping dozens of worshippers in the rubble. The preliminary investigation report said that the roof collapsed because the explosion damaged the pillars of the mosque.

The mosque Imam, Sahibzada Noorul Amin, was among those martyred, according to the list shared by the hospital. Though a member of the outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack, no formal statement of any such claim was issued by the outfit.

Following the deadly blast, security guidelines have also been changed in Peshawar as the provincial government announced a day of mourning on Tuesday (today). A high alert had also been declared in the federal capital, the Islamabad Police said.

Later in the day, funeral was held at the Peshawar Police Lines for 27 martyred policemen and young men. A smartly-turned-out unit of the police force presented salute to the martyrs as their coffins, draped in the National Flag, were led to the police ground.

Condemnations

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff (COAS) Gen Syed Asim Munir dashed to Peshawar after the suicide bombing. They also visited the Lady Reading Hospital and enquired about the well-being of the injured.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shehbaz appealed to the people, particularly the workers of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) to donate blood, especially those having the O-negative blood group, immediately to save precious human lives.

In a separate statement, the prime minister condemned the suicide attack, saying that the killing of Muslims, while they were offering prayer, was in violation of Islamic teachings and that the attack on a mosque proved that the perpetrators had nothing to do with Islam.

He said the terrorists wanted to create panic by targeting those safeguarding the country and reiterated his resolve to eliminate such elements waging a war against Pakistan. “The killers of innocent people will be made an example. The whole nation including the institutions was united against terrorism.”

The prime minister said that those who fight against Pakistan will be wiped out from the face of the Earth. He assured that a comprehensive strategy would be adopted on the deteriorating law and order situation in K-P, adding: “The Centre will help the provinces enhance its counter-terrorism capacity.”

Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah and Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also condemned the Peshawar suicide attack. They said that such cowardly acts will not deter “our resolve against acts of terrorism” in the country.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan also condemned the attack. “It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” Imran said in a tweet.

The attack was the worst terrorist act in Peshawar since March last year, when a suicide bombing at a mosque during Friday prayers killed at least 58 people and injured nearly 200. Investigators had said at that time the Islamic State bomber was an Afghan exile, who had returned home to train for the attack.

(WITH INPUT FROM AGENCIES)

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