Suicide bomber kills 34, wounds 150 at mosque in Pakistan

Suicide bomber kills 34, wounds 150 at mosque in Pakistan

Security officials and rescue workers gather at the site of a suicide bombing in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. AP Photo/Zubair Khan

PESHAWAR, Pakistan – A suicide bomber detonated explosives during packed prayers at a mosque in a police compound in Pakistan, causing the roof to collapse. At least 34 people were killed and 150 wounded, officials said.

Most of the victims were police officers. It was not clear how the bomber was able to slip into the walled compound, which houses the northwestern city of Peshawar’s police headquarters and is itself located in a high-security zone with other government buildings.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The main spokesman for the militant group was not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan, which is mostly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their ceasefire with government forces. Monday’s attack on a Sunni mosque was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

More than 300 worshipers were praying inside the mosque, with more approaching, when the bomber set off his explosive vest. Many were injured when the roof came down, according to Zafar Khan, a local police official.

Rescuers scrambled to clear piles of debris from the mosque grounds to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble, police said.

Meena Gul, who was in the mosque when the bomb went off, said he did not know how he survived unharmed. The 38-year-old police officer said he could hear cries and screams after the explosion.

Siddique Khan, a police officer, said the death toll had risen to 34, and the dead included Noor-ul-Amin, the prayer leader. He said the attacker blew himself up while he was among worshippers.

Volunteers carry an injured victim of a suicide bombing as they arrive at a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, Monday, Jan. 30, 2023. AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad

Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan said at least 150 were wounded. A nearby hospital listed many of the wounded in critical condition, raising concerns that the death toll could rise.

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence, and the city has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.

The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has been waging an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years. It seeks the stricter application of Islamic law, the release of its members who are in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that it has long used as a base.

The group is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, which seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 when US and NATO troops pulled out of the country after 20 years of war.

The government’s ceasefire with the TTP ended as Pakistan continued to grapple with unprecedented flooding that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and at one point submerged as much as one-third of the country.

Mohmand, of the militant organization, said a fighter carried out the attack to avenge the killing of Abdul Wali, who was widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, and was killed in August 2022 in neighboring Afghanistan’s Paktika province.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and ordered authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment for the victims. He also promised “stern action” against those behind the attack.

Sharif traveled to Peshawar and visited the wounded at the hospital. His office said he would receive a briefing on the security situation in the northwest.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan called the bombing a “terrorist suicide attack” in a Twitter post. “My prayers and condolences go out to the victims’ families,” the former prime minister said. “It is essential that we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Pakistan is currently facing a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial $1.1 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund – part of its $6 billion bailout package – to avoid default. Talks with the IMF about reviving the bailout have stalled in recent months.

Sharif’s government came to power last April after Imran Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming that his ouster was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif dismissed Khan’s demands.


Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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