A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded Shia mosque during Friday prayers here in northwest Pakistan, killing at least 56 people and wounding nearly 200 others, in one of the deadliest attacks in the restive province.
The blast occurred at an Imambargah located near the Qissa Khwani Bazaar area of Peshawar when the worshippers were offering Friday prayers.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the blast, the provincial capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa which borders Afghanistan. However, the Islamic State and sectarian militant groups have claimed responsibility for the deadly attacks targeting Shias in the past.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesperson for Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), confirmed that at least 56 people were killed while 194 were injured in the blast.
An eyewitness identified a person as dressed in black as the suicide bomber, saying he entered the mosque, shot and killed the security guard first and then fired five to six bullets.
“After that, he quickly entered the [mosque’s] main hall and blew himself up in front of the pulpit. Following this, there were bodies and injured people lying everywhere,” the eyewitness told Geo News.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa government spokesman Barrister Mohammad Ali Saif said that two terrorists were involved in the suicide bombing. Talking to the media, Peshawar SSP Operations Haroon Rasheed Khan said the explosion was a suicide blast.
There were two attackers but only one of them was a suicide bomber, he said.
Inspector-general of police Moazzam Jah Ansari the terrorist first opened fire at the worshippers after entering the mosque and then blew himself up.
Ansari said that about five to six kilogrammes of explosives were used in the blast, which took place in the third row of the mosque. An emergency has been declared in the hospital and doctors on leave were summoned.
Officials said the condition of some of the injured is stated to be critical.
Capital city police officer Peshawar Ijaz Ahsan said two attackers tried to enter the mosque and fired at the policemen standing guard. One policeman was killed while the other was critically injured, he said.
The blast occurred following the firing incident, he added. President Arif Alvi condemned the blast and expressed grief over the precious lives lost.
Prime Minister Imran Khan strongly condemned the blast and directed authorities to provide medical treatment to the injured. He also sought an inquiry report from the authorities concerned.
Interior minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed sought a report of the incident from the Chief Secretary and IG of the province. “No threat alert was received … we had a meeting a couple of days ago but no threat was received; we had no information about it,” the interior minister said.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chief minister Mahmood Khan condemned the blast and vowed to bring the perpetrators of this heinous act to justice. He said targeting people in a place of worship is an inhuman and cruel act and directed authorities to ensure the best medical care to the injured.
He has convened an emergency meeting at the Chief Minister’s House to review the overall security situation in the province, bordering Afghanistan.