The grisly images of the January 30 bombing at a Shikarpur Imambargah were still fresh when terrorists struck at another mosque on Friday – this time in an upscale residential neighbourhood of Peshawar. At least 20 worshippers were killed and 59 injured in a gun and suicide attack at Imamia Masjid in Phase 5 of Hyatabad.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan claimed credit for the deadly attack which was reminiscent of the December 16, 2014 methodical killing of students and staff at the Army Public School in Peshawar.
Three terrorists, fitted with suicide vests and armed with hand grenades and AK-47 assault rifles, entered the mosque and started shooting indiscriminately at the worshippers, a senior police official said. They also lobbed hand grenades before triggering the explosives strapped to their bodies, he added.
“The bombers entered the mosque from an adjacent under-construction building,” SSP Operations Mian Saeed told The Express Tribune. “One of them was shot and fatally wounded before he could blow himself up.”
AIG Shafqat Malik, head of the Bomb Disposal Unit, endorsed SSP Saeed. “We have successfully removed the explosives vest from the body of the third bomber,” he said, adding that they have also found four legs and two skulls – believed to be of the two bombers – from the crime scene.
“The attack was near-identical to the APS rampage,” Malik said. “The militant groups based in the northeastern Afghan province of Kunar might have carried out Friday’s attack,” he said. The Mullah Fazlullah-led TTP had claimed responsibility for the APS massacre, and Pakistani security officials say that Fazlullah and his fighters have found sanctuaries in eastern and southern Afghanistan.
Earlier, rumours swirled that six suicide bombers launched the attack. The rumours were fuelled by the discovery of many human limbs at the site.
Shabbir Hussain, a journalist, said that he was praying in the mosque when he heard back to back blasts followed by intense gunfire. “After lobbing hand grenades, the militants started firing at the panicking worshippers, shooting them in the head,” he told The Express Tribune. Some worshippers overpowered the militants, but then a third militant entered the mosque and detonated his suicide vest, he added.
“It was followed by more explosions,” Shabbir said. “At least 800 worshippers were present in the mosque at the time of the attack,” he added. “Security was insufficient as only one policeman was standing guard at the entrance to the mosque.”
Another eyewitness, Ikhlaq Ahmad, gave a near-identical account. “I was fortunate to have survived, but others were not so lucky,” he told The Express Tribune from his bed at the Hayatabad Medical Complex where most of the casualties were shifted. Medics at the hospital confirmed that they have received 20 bodies and dozens of injured persons – 12 of whom are in a critical condition.
The list of fatal victims included DSP Special Branch Naveed Abbas and Syed Gulfam Hussain, cousin of well-known journalist Aleem Haider Zaidi, both residents of Kohat. Abbas was deployed at the United Nations in Peshawar’s University Town. Both were offering Friday prayers at the Imamia Masjid.
In a subsequent search operation, the police found a gutted Toyota Corolla car two blocks away from the attack site. “We believe the militants came in this car and set it on fire before launching the attack,” said an official of the local police station.
The attack was widely condemned by the political leadership. Provincial Chief Minister Pervaiz Khattak visited the HMC to enquire about the injured. He announced financial compensation for the victims under the Shaheed Package.
“The Pakistani nation will emerge victorious in the war against terrorism and terrorists will be defeated but we have to discharge our responsibilities to show the world that we are a living nation,” he said, according to an official handout.
Meanwhile, leading Shia representative groups, including Jafria Alliance Pakistan, Majlis-e-Wahdat-e-Muslimeen (MWM) and Shia Ulema Council, announced a three-day period of mourning for the Peshawar mosque attack.
MWM secretary general Allama Raja Nasir Abbas Jafari said his party would organise protest rallies on Sunday in all major cities of the country. “We will hold an effective and prolonged protest against terrorists as well as ineffective federal and provincial governments from Sunday,” he told The Express Tribune.
JAP head Allama Abbas Kumaili said the ‘so-called democratic governments’ seemed to have bowed before the terrorists. “Now, all eyes are set on the Pakistan Army in the hope that it will save the country from further terrorism and bloodshed,” he said.
While holding the federal government responsible for the Peshawar attack, Shia Ulema Council leader Allama Mazhar Alvi demanded Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his government to step down.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 14th, 2015.