PESHAWAR: Bodies were still being pulled from the wreckage of a mosque blast that targeted police officers in the provincial capital, killing 90 people and wounding 150 more.
The attack happened on Monday during Zohr prayers inside a mosque in Peshawar's Police Lines area.
According to Radio Pakistan, 90 people embraced martyrdom, with the death toll rising as more bodies arrived from the scene.
"This morning we are going to remove the last part of the collapsed roof so we can recover more bodies, but we are not hopeful of reaching any survivors," Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesperson for the rescue organisation 1122, told AFP.
Shahid Ali, a policeman who survived, said the explosion took place seconds after the imam started prayers.
"I saw black smoke rising to the sky. I ran out to save my life," the 47-year-old told AFP.
The police said that the bombing occurred at the central hall of the mosque at 1pm as the suicide bomber was standing in the front row, causing the roof to collapse on the worshippers who were participating in the Zohr prayers at that moment.
They said that the sound of the explosion was so loud that it was heard far away while gunshots were also heard after the blast.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took responsibility for the attack.
Day of mourning
KP Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan has announced a day of mourning in the province tomorrow (Tuesday) following the heinous attack.
The national flag will be at half-mast across the province, he said, adding that the government share the grief of the martyrs’ families.
The interim CM also assured the aggrieved families that the provincial government would not leave them alone in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Peshawar Mohammad Aijaz Khan, while speaking to Geo News, said that the blast appears to be a suicide attack and the head of the suspected bomber has also been found at the site.
CCPO Khan said that the exact nature of the blast will be known once the rescue operation concludes. "It is possible that the attacker was already present in the Police Lines before the blast and that he may have used an official vehicle [to enter] ," he said.
The city police chief also said that there are offices of over eight departments in Police Lines including Frontier Reserve Police (FRP), Special Security Unit (SSU) and Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).
"About 1,500 to 2,000 police officers visit the Police Lines daily," he highlighted.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif reached Peshawar where he was briefed on all aspects of the blast. He also visited the injured after the briefing.
The premier was accompanied by Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.
After being questioned by PM Shehbaz about the attack on the mosque, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari said that “investigations are underway” about how the attack happened and how the terrorist entered the vicinity.
“Don’t know where the attacker came from and how he entered?” Ansari said.
The police chief further said that “there are family quarters inside the Police Lines and the attacker could be already living in the area”.
Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson Muhammad Asim Khan said that 157 injured people were brought to the medical facility after the blast.
“At the moment, around 55 injured are getting treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital. Some of the injured are critical, while the condition of most is satisfactory,” Asim said, adding that most people among the injured and dead included police officers.
Following the blast, the injured were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. The hospital has been continuously appealing to citizens to donate blood for the victims.
The Khyber Medical College’s Forensic department dean said that the postmortem of 40 bodies has been completed. “Bodies of the 40 people have been handed over to their families. A report will be prepared once autopsies of all bodies are done.”
Funeral prayers of 27 martyrs have been performed with Corp Commander Peshawar, IG Police, and Commandant Frontier Corps in attendance.
The police team saluted the martyrs, while strict security measures were taken around the Police Lines area.
PM Shehbaz appeals for blood donations
In a bid save the lives of those injured in the deadly blast, Premier Shehbaz appealed to people, students and PML-N workers immediately reach the Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar and share their contribution to saving precious human lives.
Taking to the microblogging site Twitter, he said: “I direct the PML-N’s workers to donate blood for saving the lives of the injured.”
An eyewitness told the media that he was going to the mosque when the explosion took place.
“It was a powerful explosion. There was smoke everywhere after the blast," said the eyewitness. He added that when got conscious he saw the roof of the mosque collapse.
"There were at least 120 people in the mosque when the incident took place. It was a suicide blast because the bomber was inside the mosque's inner courtyard. The Zuhr prayer had just started when it happened. There were mostly policemen among the injured," the eyewitness recalled.
Meanwhile, the President of the Civil Secretariat Association Peshawar Tassavur Iqbal, who regularly prays at the mosque, said that the Police Lines area's security is always high and no one can enter without showing their identity and body search.
"This is an unfortunate incident that took place here today. This is a big mosque and 400-500 people can offer prayer at a time. We are hearing that the building collapsed after the blast," Iqbal said.
Journalist Qaiser explained that the Police Lines is located in Peshawar Cantt's most sensitive area where a large number of law enforcement and FC personnel are present around the clock.
"The offices of KP's CTD and police investigation department are situated here. Usually, 1,000 police personnel are present at the police headquarters," he added.
The journalist said that in order to go inside the area one has to stop at two police checkposts.
"The bomber was able to sneak inside after passing through checking three times," said the journalist.
Speaking to Geo News, Defence Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif revealed that the roof fell due to the intensity of the blast, adding that the hospitals have been overwhelmed.
He said that the police have been targeted, emphasising that the machinery that controlled terrorism before needs to be activated again.
Asif assured the people that the law and order situation in KP will be restored as measures are being taken.
The defence minister said that even though they receive threats, people cannot be stopped from entering a mosque.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan announced to impose of a medical emergency in major hospitals of Peshawar. The interim CM further directed all rescue organisations to speed up relief activities.
The CM has ordered to ensure immediate measures to transfer the injured to the hospital, directing the concerned authorities to provide timely medical assistance to the injured who are being shifted to hospitals.
The provincial health department announced a “medical emergency” in the city in the wake of the Police Lines Peshawar bomb blast.
“All the doctors and support staff in the government health facilities including MTIs in district Peshawar are directed to remain on red alert to cope with the emergencies, till further orders,” the notification issued in this regard.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast, adding that the blast inside a mosque proves that those involved in the attack have “nothing to do with Islam.”
“These terrorists are trying to instil fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said, assuring the people that the coalition government will take strict action against those involved.
Strongly condemning the terrorist suicide attack, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan said: “It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering [and] properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”
The former prime minister shared his prayer and condolences go to the victims’ families.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the "abhorrent" blast.
"It is abhorrent that the attack occurred at a place of worship. Freedom of religion or belief, including the ability to worship in peace & security, is a universal human right," he wrote on Twitter.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, condemning the incident, said that strict action will be taken against the terrorists, their backers and facilitators.
Terror incidents before general and by-elections are "meaningful", he added.
Federal Minister for Planning and Development Ahsan Iqbal termed the attack “worst terrorism”.
Taking to his Twitter handle, the minister said: "The aim of such brutal and cowardly attacks is to weaken the nation's resolve against terrorism, but this resolve will be strengthened by every drop of blood and martyrdom.”
Meanwhile, former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari condemned the incident, saying that the terrorists being active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is "extremely dangerous".
He said that the government should end the nurseries of terrorism by following the national action plan.
Former provincial chief minister Mahmood Khan said that the blast was "heartbreaking".
"The loss of lives is extremely upsetting," Khan said while praying for the martyrs and for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Calling the blast in Peshawar the "worst act of terrorism", PML-N leader Hamza Shahbaz said that the deteriorating law and order situation in KP and the recent incidents of terrorism were very worrying.
He prayed for the speedy recovery of the injured, high ranks of the martyrs and patience for those who lost their loved ones.
Following the blast in Peshawar, Inspector-General of Islamabad Dr Akbar Nasir Khan issued orders to put security on high alert in the federal capital.
Moreover, checking has been increased at all the entry and exit points in the city while monitoring is being done by Safe City Capital Command and Control Centre Islamabad.
Snipers have also been deployed at important sites and buildings.
— With additional input from AFP
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