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Police detain 23 suspects as Peshawar mosque blast toll mounts to 101

By Agencies
February 02, 2023

By Javed Aziz Khan

PESHAWAR: Police have detained 23 people in connection to a blast at a mosque inside a police headquarters that killed 101 people, a senior official who asked not to be named said Wednesday.

Authorities are also probing the possibility that people inside the compound helped to coordinate the attack, the senior provincial police official said on condition of anonymity.

“We have detained people from the Police Line (headquarters) to get to the bottom of how the explosive material made its way in and to see if any police officials were also involved in the attack,” the senior official said. “The attacker and facilitators might have had links outside Pakistan.”

He said some among the 23 detained were also from the city and nearby former tribal areas, which border Afghanistan. Authorities are investigating how a major security breach could happen in one of the most tightly controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus and next door to the regional secretariat.

Low-level militancy, often targeting security checkpoints, has been steadily rising in the areas near Peshawar that border Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021. The assaults are claimed mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, as well as the local chapter of the Islamic State (IS), but mass casualty attacks remain rare. Moazzam Jah Ansari, the head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa police, on Tuesday told reporters that a militant group that was on-and-off affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban could be behind the attack. Police have said the mosque blast was a revenge attack against the police force who are on the front-line fighting a resurgence in militancy since the Afghan Taliban came to power across the border.

Meanwhile, the Taliban government in Kabul warned Pakistan’s ministers “to not pass the blame to others”. “They should see the problems in their own house. Afghanistan should not be blamed,” foreign minister Amir Khan Muttaqi said in a press conference.

Meanwhile, a day of mourning was observed across the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on Monday as the death toll of Sunday’s suicide bombing at the mosque of the Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines mounted to 101, with 221 injured.

Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan told the media at the blast site that so far 95 people, mostly policemen, had been martyred while 221 injured were under treatment at various hospitals.

Flanked by Inspector General of Police Moazam Jah Ansari, he said the government had constituted a high-level inquiry committee to investigate and identify the elements involved in the inhuman act.

Azam Khan said the government stood by the blast victims and their families in the hour of tribulation and would provide them all facilities, including financial assistance. The process for payment of compensation to the families of deceased and injured was underway, he added.

Later addressing the police personnel at the police lines, the chief minister said the police force would be equipped with modern weapons. The worsening law and order situation of the province had also been brought to the notice of Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, he added.

IGP Moazam Jah on the occasion said that about 10 to 12 kilograms of explosives were used in the blast. The bomber blew himself up at around 1 pm during the Zuhr prayers, and as a result, the roof of the mosque caved in burying the worshippers in its debris.

He said the aspect of the security lapse could not be overlooked and investigations were underway to ascertain the facts. “We are checking CCTV footage of the last month to trace the facilitators of the bomber.

The IGP told the media earlier that evidence from the crime scene had been sent to laboratory for DNA and other analysis. He hinted at increasing the intelligence-based operations in some areas to improve law and order.

A joint investigation team (JIT) has been notified and everything would be clear soon after the completion of the probe, he said. “Those responsible will be brought to book,” he vowed. The IGP said over 2,000 personnel worked in eight different departments at the Police Lines.

Besides, a large number of civilians daily visited the Police Lines, which also encompassed family quarters. Moreover, labourers also entered the site as construction work was also going on, he added.

Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Health Abdul Qadir Patel and Secretary Health Punjab contacted KP Governor Ghulam Ali on telephone and offered healthcare facilities, including doctors and medicines, from Islamabad, Punjab and Sindh for the injured persons.

Governor Ghulam Ali expressed gratitude to the federal minister and the Secretary Health Punjab for their sympathies and humanitarian support.

Rescue 1122 Spokesperson Bilal Faizi said that the search and rescue operation in the collapsed mosque had been completed. A total of 77 bodies of martyred worshippers were shifted to hospitals, and 17 of them were retrieved from beneath the mosque’s debris. Likewise, 94 injured were also transported.

According to police sources, a preliminary investigation report of the bombing had been sent to the prime minister. The evidence collected from the blast site indicated that it was a suicide attack and its target was the police. They said the mosque’s roof fell after its pillars collapsed, causing a lot of damage.

The CCTV footage from the Police Lines gate and family quarters was being examined. The KP government observed a day of mourning to express solidarity with the blast victims. The national flag was kept at half mast at all government and private buildings.

People in large numbers gathered at the residences of martyrs to express condolences to their families and offer Fateha for their departed souls.

A sorrowful day was witnessed across the province, particularly in Charsadda, Nowsehra, Swabi, Mardan, and Peshawar as most of the martyred cops belonged to these areas. The people of all walks of life strongly condemned the terror act and visited the LRH to inquire after the injured cops.

In an unprecedented development, policemen on Wednesday held demonstrations in some parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to protest the bombing at the Malik Saad Shaheed Lines as officials said some suspects had been taken into custody.

On the other hand, groups of policemen took to streets in Peshawar, Mardan, Swat and some other towns to protest the attack. This was something unprecedented in a disciplined force. The protesters wanted answers to many questions including how such a massive attack happened at the well-guarded police headquarters and who was behind it.

The cops were angry for not taking timely measures that led to the martyrdom of the highest number of cops in a single incident in the history of KP. “This protest was something unprecedented. The policemen once went on strike in Punjab over five decades back,” an official said, terming the current situation alarming.

In Peshawar, a number of policemen from Elite Force, regular force and other wings gathered outside the Peshawar Press Club to stage the protest. Carrying their AK-47 rifles, they were demanding a proper probe into the police lines attack.

The cops were in pain over losing such a large number of colleagues and wanted the government and police bosses to answer the questions regarding the attack on police lines and other such incidents.

Junior policemen have been demanding provision of latest technology, effective bullet-proof jackets, gadgets to fight against night vision thermal scope guns, ammunition and sufficient manpower to the posts and police stations in areas coming under frequent attacks.

They have also been demanding additional risk allowances for their colleagues in remote and troubled towns and police stations on the pattern of Counter-Terrorism Department.

Hundreds of policemen of KP have been martyred and innumerable others were maimed for life in terrorist attacks in the last two decades.

Despite fighting the war, the force still lacks ammunition, manpower, bullet-proof jackets, vehicles and other resources to meet the current challenges and repulse attacks, especially at night. Some of the vulnerable posts even don’t have a proper building.

A statement issued by the Central Police Office said the cops, who staged protests were playing into the hands of others. It said the protests would not only discourage their colleagues but the terrorists would also take advantage of it. The statement paid tributes to the cops of the KP Police who fought bravely against the terrorists in the past many years and said the families of those martyred and wounded would not be left alone.

Meanwhile, Zuhr prayers were offered followed by Quran Khwani at the central mosque in the Malik Saad Shaheed Police Lines.

Capital City Police Officer Muhammad Ijaz Khan, SSP Coordination Zahoor Afridi and other senior officers attended the prayers.

“The rubble is still being removed but we reached the crime scene. From the evidence it seems a suicide attack,” said CCPO Ijaz after the prayers. He said the evidence had been sent to the laboratory while the security of the Red Zone was being reviewed. He said the investigation into the case was being done but nothing could be shared regarding the progress at this stage.

A joint investigation team has started its work to probe the incident as well as to find out how the attacker managed his entry and how the explosives were smuggled. Senior officials of police, CTD and other wings held meetings till late Wednesday in this regard.

A source said the CCTV footage, the record of visitors as well as details of those inside the lines was being checked to find anything suspicious.

Reports said that the entire security staff of the police lines had been changed after the incident. Also, the CTD lodged the FIR in the incident under sections 302, 324, 353, 427-3 of PPC, 4ESA, 7ATA and 295.

The FIR mentioned that two DSPs Rabnawaz, Asmat Shah, five inspectors Doran Shah, Irfan Khan, Zahir Shah, Akhtar Hussain and Tilawat Shah were among the large number of policemen and others who died in the attack. On the other hand, Awami National Party provincial president Aimal Wali Khan told the media that the province witnessed a number of suicide blasts in the past years but none of it had the intensity that resulted in collapse of the entire building.

The KP was still mourning the loss of its highest number of cops in any single incident on the third day. Quran Khwani and prayers were held at a number of places for 101 martyrs and over 220 injured.

There were some social media reports that two more died on Wednesday but the officials confirmed the death of only 101 people, including 99 policemen, a woman and a guest.