At least 28 killed, 150 wounded in suicide bombing targeting Pakistan police mosque

Most casualties are law enforcement personnel; unclear how bomber managed to penetrate high-security zone; PM Sharif vows ‘stern action’ against perpetrators

Security officials inspect the site of a suicide bombing at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan, on January 30, 2023. (Maaz ALI/AFP)
Security officials inspect the site of a suicide bombing at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan, on January 30, 2023. (Maaz ALI/AFP)

A suicide bomber struck Monday inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, killing at least 28 people and wounding as many as 150 worshippers, officials said.

Most of the casualties were police officers as the targeted mosque is located within a sprawling compound, which also serves as the city’s police headquarters.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing, said Saddique Khan, a senior police official in Peshawar, but the Pakistani Taliban have been blamed in similar suicide attacks in the past. As the number of casualties rose, Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan gave the latest tolls.

The bomber detonated his suicide vest as some 200 worshipers were praying inside or heading to the mosque for prayers. The police compound is located in a high-security zone in Peshawar, along with several government buildings, and it was unclear how the bomber managed to penetrate so deep inside the zone unnoticed.

Officers said the blast came from the second row of worshippers.

The impact of the explosion collapsed the roof of the mosque, which caved in and injured many, according to Zafar Khan, a local police officer.

Security personnel block access to the site of a suicide bombing at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar, Pakistan, on January 30, 2023. (Maaz ALI/AFP)

A survivor, 38-year-old police officer Meena Gul, said he was inside the mosque when the bomb went off. He said he doesn’t know how he survived unhurt. He could hear cries and screams after the bomb exploded, Gul said.

Shahid Ali, another 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 screams of the people are still echoing in my mind,” he added. “People were screaming for help.”

Rescuers scrambled trying to remove mounds of debris from the mosque grounds and get to worshipers still trapped under the rubble, police said. At a nearby hospital, many of the wounded were listed in critical condition as the casualty toll rose.

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

Victims injured in a suicide bombing at a mosque inside the police headquarters transported toward a hospital in Peshawar, Pakistan, January 30, 2023. (AP/Muhammad Sajjad)

Former prime minister Imran Khan also condemned the bombing, calling it a “terrorist suicide attack” in a Twitter posting. “My prayers & condolences go to victims’ families,” said the ex-premier. “It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Peshawar is the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province bordering Afghanistan and has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.

The Pakistani Taliban, known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, are a separate group but also a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO troops were in the final stages of their pullout from the country after 20 years of war.

The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan over the past 15 years, fighting for stricter enforcement of Islamic laws in the country, the release of their members who are in government custody, and a reduction of the Pakistani military presence in the country’s former tribal regions.

Pakistan has witnessed a surge in militant attacks since November when the Pakistani Taliban ended their ceasefire with government forces.

The truce ended as Pakistan was still contending with last summer’s 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. The flood damages totaled more than $30 billion and authorities are now, months later, still struggling to arrange tents, shelter, and food for the survivors.

This aerial view shows a flooded residential area in Dera Allah Yar town after heavy monsoon rains in Jaffarabad, Pakistan on August 30, 2022. (Fida HUSSAIN / AFP)

Cash-strapped Pakistan is currently also facing one of the worst economic crises and is seeking a crucial installment of $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund — part of its $6 billion bailout package — to avoid default. Talks with the IMF on reviving the bailout have stalled in the past 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 his ouster was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif have dismissed Khan’s claims.

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