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Wednesday May 22, 2024

PM Shehbaz calls for unity as KP mosque toll hits 100

Rescue organisations complete operation after 24 hours of powerful blast that left 221 people injured

By Nadia Saboohi & Rasool Dawar & Shakeel Farman Ali
January 31, 2023
This handout picture taken on January 30, 2023 and released by Pakistans Police Department shows Pakistans security officials gathering to attend funeral prayers for police officers who were killed in a mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar. — AFP
This handout picture taken on January 30, 2023 and released by Pakistan's Police Department shows Pakistan's security officials gathering to attend funeral prayers for police officers who were killed in a mosque blast inside the police headquarters in Peshawar. — AFP

PESHAWAR: Prime minister Shehbaz Sharif on Tuesday urged all the political forces to unite against the hostile elements as the death toll from a suicide attack on a mosque in Peshawar surged to 100.

Peshawar on Monday saw one of the worst massacres when a suicide bomber blew himself up at a mosque at a police headquarters — which is in a tightly guarded police compound — during the Zohr prayers, causing the roof to come crashing down upon those who were offering the prayers at that time.

Taking to Twitter, PM Shehbaz said, “Through their despicable actions, terrorists want to spread fear & paranoia among the masses & reverse our hard-earned gains against terrorism & militancy.”

In his message, the prime minister urged all the political forces to unite against anti-Pakistan elements. “We can fight our political fights later,” he added.

Mohammad Asim, the spokesperson of the main medical facility, Lady Reading Hospital Peshawar, said that about 100 bodies were brought to the facility and 53 people are under treatment. Officials also said that the tally of the injured stood at 221.

While all the injured people are being treated for their wounds, seven of them have been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU), with the death toll feared to rise.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa caretaker Chief Minister Azam, while talking to media persons, said that "such incidents have been taking place from the last 40 years, it wasn't something new".

"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.

Probe will clear everything soon: IG

Speaking during a press conference alongside KP CM Azam Khan, Inspector-General Moazzam Jah Ansari said that about 10-12 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast.

He said that there has been a security lapse and investigations are underway to ascertain the facts. "We are checking one-month's CCTV footage and tracking the facilitators of the bomber," he added.

The provincial police chief said that a joint investigation team (JIT) has been notified and the probe will clear everything soon. Those responsible will be identified and brought to book, he added.

He said that the attacker might have entered the premises as a guest. He added that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had denied responsibility for the attack last night.

Earlier, the IG said that there are over 2,000 policemen in the Police Lines working with eight different departments.

He said that a large number of civilians visit this place on a daily basis, adding that it also has family quarters. "Construction work was also going on in the locality with workers coming in and going out every day," he added.

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.

Investigations underway

Speaking during a press conference alongside KP CM Azam Khan, Inspector-General Moazzam Jah Ansari that about 10-12 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast.

He said that there has been a security lapse and investigations are underway to ascertain the facts. "We are checking one-month's CCTV footage and tracking the facilitators of the bomber," he added.

The provincial police chief said that a joint investigation team (JIT) has been notified and the probe will clear everything soon. Those responsible will be identified and brought to book, he added.

He said that the attacker might have entered the premises as a guest. He added that the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) had denied responsibility for the attack last night.

Earlier, the IG said that there are over 2,000 policemen in the Police Lines working with eight different departments.

He said that a large number of civilians visit this place on a daily basis, adding that it also has family quarters. "Construction work was also going on in the locality with workers coming in and going out every day," he added.

PPP's KP wing announces three-day mourning

Meanwhile, Pakistan Peoples Party's (PPP) Khyber Pakhtunkhwa wing announced a three-day mourning to grieve the unfortunate incident.

Minister of the State Mohammad Ali Shah Bacha said that the party flags at the PPP Secretariat and all the district offices will hang down and political activities will be suspended during the mourning period.

He said that PPP will offer its condolences with the families of the martyrs. Meanwhile, PPP General Secretary Shuja Salim Khan urged the party officials and workers to help injured being treated at hospitals and share the grief of affected families.

Eyewitness account

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.  

Condemnations pour in

The ghastly attack triggered an outpour of reactions from the national and international leaders over the loss of lives, with leaders affirming their support for Pakistan against terrorism.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his "deepest condolences" over the loss of lives in the Peshawar suicide attack.

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.

Meanwhile, the international community also strongly condemned the suicide bomb blast in their separate messages and affirmed their support to Pakistan against terrorism.

Saudi Arabia, in its condemnation, reiterated its resolve to stand with Pakistan against all kinds of violence, extremism and terrorism.

Earlier, 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.