Sirajuddin | Arif Hayat Published January 30, 2023 Updated 6 minutes ago
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A blast inside a mosque shook Peshawar’s Police Lines area on Monday, with officials saying that at least 32 people were killed and 147 were injured.
Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) spokesperson Mohammad Asim confirmed the number of casualties. He added that a number of injured persons were in critical conditions.
Peshawar Commissioner Riaz Mehsood said a rescue operation was under way inside the mosque as a number of people were buried under the rubble.
“An emergency has been imposed at hospitals across the city and injured persons are being provided the best medical facilities,” the senior official said.
Speaking to the media, Peshawar Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Muhammad Ijaz Khan said that the roof of the mosque collapsed after the blast. “A number of jawans are still stuck under the rubble and rescuers are trying to pull them out.”
He said the main hall of the mosque — having a capacity of 250 to 300 people — had collapsed but the rest of the building was still intact.
In response to a question about the nature of the blast, the official said: “The smell of explosives has been detected but it is too early to say anything substantial.”
Khan said between 300 to 400 police personnel were present in the area at the time of the blast. “It is apparent that a security lapse occurred,” the CCPO told the media.
He added that the bodies and injured persons had been moved to the LRH.
Standing alongside Khan, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali condemned the blast and urged the people of Peshawar to donate blood for the injured, saying that it would be a “huge favour for the police”.
Former KP chief minister Mahmood Khan also called on PTI workers in Peshawar and adjoining areas to reach LRH to donate blood to the victims.
Separately, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah said he and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had departed for Peshawar. “The premier will be briefed on all aspects of the blast,” he said on Twitter, adding that PM Shehbaz would also visit the injured.
In a separate tweet, he said the blast would be investigated from all angles. He vowed that the Centre would fully facilitate the KP government.
So far, it is still unclear whether a bomb was planted in the mosque or if it was a suicide attack. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
Dawn.com’s correspondent at the blast site said the explosion took place at around 1:40pm as Zuhr prayers were being offered. He said personnel of the police, army and bomb disposal squad were present inside the mosque.
The reporter said a portion of the building had collapsed and several people — especially those standing in the front row during the prayers — were believed to be under it.
Visuals run on television channels showed people gathered around the collapsed wall of the mosque. Meanwhile, roads leading to the Red Zone — the area housing Governor’s House, Chief Minister Secretariat, Corps Headquarters and important defence installations — were closed down.
A witness told Dawn.com that he was performing wudhu in the mosque’s compound when a powerful explosion threw him onto the street. “My ears were blocked and I was knocked unconscious.”
Another witness said that the windows of the building adjacent to the mosque shattered because of the intensity of the blast.
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 screams of the people are still echoing in my mind,” he added. “People were screaming for help.”
The last major incident of such a nature had taken place in Peshawar last year, when a suicide blast inside a Shia mosque in Kocha Risaldar area claimed 63 lives.
In a statement issued later in the day, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif strongly condemned the blast and said that the attackers behind the incident “have nothing to do with Islam”.
“Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said.
The premier paid tribute to the martyrs and promised that their sacrifices would not be in vain. “The entire nation is standing united against the menace of terrorism.”
PM Shehbaz also said that a comprehensive strategy would be adopted to counter the deteriorating law and order situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the federal government will help provinces in increasing their anti-terrorism capacity.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, while condemning the attack, said that “terrorist incidents before local and general elections were meaningful”.
A tweet by PPP’s media cell quoted Bilawal as saying that strict action would be taken against terrorists, their patrons and their facilitators.
Bilawal stressed that the National Action Plan was the only solution to the issue of terrorism and promised that it would be “implemented strictly”.
He also called party workers to donate their blood to save the lives of the injured.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan also strongly condemned the “terrorist suicide attack” in Peshawar and expressed sympathies with the families of the victims.
“It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” he added.
Ex-human rights minister Shireen Mazari termed the bomber’s “access to a central area of the provincial capital” as another “intel failure”.
“Our police are frontline defenders against terrorists, especially in urban areas and need better resources, including equipment,” she added.
The US embassy in Islamabad extended its deepest condolences to the families of the victims. “The United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism,” the mission said on Twitter.
Security high-alert in Islamabad
Islamabad Inspector General Dr Akbar Nasir Khan issued directions for a “security high-alert” to be placed in the capital, a tweet by Islamabad Police said.
It said that security at all entry and exit points of the city has been increased and monitoring was being done through the “Safe City” system.
The police added that snipers had been placed at “important points and buildings” and the police were provided with thermal imaging facilities.
Additional input from AFP
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