A Taliban suicide bomber blew himself up in a mosque packed with worshippers during afternoon prayers on Monday in the high-security zone in Pakistan’s restive northwestern Peshawar city, killing 61 people and wounding nearly 150 others, mostly policemen, officials said.
The blast occurred inside the mosque in the Police Lines area at around 1.40pm when worshippers, including police personnel, army and bomb disposal squads, were offering Zuhr or afternoon prayers. The bomber was present in the front row, officials said.
Lady Reading Hospital officials said 61 people have died so far. However, the Peshawar police has released a list of 38 victims.
There were mostly policemen and security officials among the dead and injured.
A brother of the slain commander of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) Umar Khalid Khurasani claimed that the suicide blast was part of the revenge attack for his brother who was killed in August 2022 in Afghanistan.
The outlawed TTP, known as the Pakistani Taliban, has carried out a number of suicide attacks in the past, targeting security personnel.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and army chief General Asim Munir dashed to Peshawar to review the relief and rescue operation.
The Prime Minister along with the army chief also visited the hospital in Peshawar and inquired about the health of the injured. Interior minister Rana Sanaullah and other officials were also present.
Information minister Marriyum Aurangzeb tweeted that Sharif summoned an emergency meeting.
She said that “all relevant institutions have been directed to attend the meeting” which will “look into the motives behind the terrorist attack”.
The preliminary probe report would be presented in the meeting. The superintendent of police (investigation), Peshawar, Shazad Kaukab, whose office is close to the mosque, said the blast occurred when he just entered the mosque to offer prayers. He said he luckily survived the attack.
A police official said that a portion of the mosque collapsed and several people were believed to be under it. “We are currently focused on the rescue operation. Our first priority is to safely retrieve the people buried under the debris,” in-charge Rescue operation Bilal Faizi told the media.
The headquarters of the Peshawar Police, Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Frontier Reserve Police (FRP), Elite Force and telecommunications department are also located near the blast site. The bomber entered the highly-secure mosque inside the police lines where four layers of security were in place.
Quoting Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Peshawar Muhammad Ijaz Khan, Dawn newspaper said that a number of jawans are still stuck under the rubble and rescuers are trying to pull them out.
Khan said between 300 to 400 police officials were present in the area at the time of the blast. “It is apparent that a security lapse occurred,” he told the media.