Blast at mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar targets police, at least 59 people killed

Blast at mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar targets police, at least 59 people killed

A suicide bomber struck a crowded mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan, causing the roof to collapse, killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 150 others.

Key points: More than 300 worshipers were praying inside or on their way to the mosque when the bomb went off. The Pakistani Taliban denied responsibility for the blast, which caused a wall and roof to collapse.

Many of the victims were police officers who had gathered for afternoon prayers at a mosque in the northwestern city of Peshawar, a government official said.

It was not clear how the bomber was able to slip into the walled compound, which houses police headquarters and is itself located in a high-security zone with other government buildings.

Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif called the blast a suicide attack.

There were at least 260 people inside, police officer Sikandar Khan said.

“Part of the building has collapsed and several people are believed to be under it,” he added.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, also known as TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter.

But hours later, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques, seminaries and religious places, adding that those who engage in such acts face punitive action under TTP’s policy in the face can stare.

His statement did not address why a TTP commander claimed responsibility for the bombing.

There was otherwise no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, the worst in Peshawar since March 2022, when an Islamic State suicide bombing killed at least 58 people in a Shiite Muslim mosque during Friday prayers.

Peshawar – which straddles the edge of Pakistan’s tribal districts bordering Taliban-controlled Afghanistan – is regularly targeted by Islamist militant groups, including Islamic State and the Pakistani Taliban.

More than 300 worshipers prayed during the attack

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 assault on a Sunni mosque inside the police facility was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

A witness says many people were injured when the roof came down. (AP: Zubair Khan)

More than 300 worshipers were praying in 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 police officer.

The impact of the explosion also collapsed the roof of the mosque, which collapsed and injured many, according to Mr Khan.

Rescue workers had to remove piles of rubble to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble.

“We get that the terrorist was standing in the front row,” Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Geo TV.

A survivor, 38-year-old police officer Meena Gul, said he was inside the mosque when the bomb went off.

He said he did not know how he survived unharmed.

He could hear cries and screams after the bomb exploded, Mr Gul said.

At a nearby hospital, many of the wounded were listed in critical condition.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the bombing, calling it 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 imperative that we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Pakistani Taliban attacks on the rise

Peshwar, located on the edge of Pakistan’s tribal districts bordering Afghanistan, is regularly targeted by militant groups, including the Pakistani Taliban.

The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban.

Survivors of the suicide bombing went to the hospital for initial treatment. (AP Photo: Muhammad Sajjad)

TTP is an umbrella of Sunni and sectarian Islamic groups that want to overthrow the government and replace it with their own brand of Islamic governance.

The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years, seeking stricter application of Islamic law, the release of its members in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of a province it has long used as a basis.

It has carried out frequent attacks on the police in the past few months.

Earlier this month, in another attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, a gunman shot dead two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the country’s military-based spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence.

Security officials said the gunman was tracked down and killed in a shootout in the country’s northwest, near the Afghan border.

In December, Islamist militants seized a counter-terrorism center in the northwest and took hostages to negotiate with government authorities.


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