Bomb blast leaves eight madressah students dead

Updated 28 Oct 2020

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PESHAWAR: Personnel of the Rescue 1122 and bomb disposal squad collect pieces of evidence from the site of the bomb explosion on Tuesday. — Dawn
PESHAWAR: Personnel of the Rescue 1122 and bomb disposal squad collect pieces of evidence from the site of the bomb explosion on Tuesday. — Dawn

• ‘Military grade explosive or TNT used in Peshawar attack’
• Blast occurred during Sheikh Rahimuddin’s lecture, live-streamed on Facebook
• Five-kilo explosives used in timed device: officials

PESHAWAR: At least eight students were killed and about 120 others wounded when a timed device went off inside a mosque where a large number of seminary students were attending a class on Tuesday morning.

Police said the blast took place inside the main prayer hall of Spin Jumat or White Mos­­que, located in Dir Colony on Ring Road, at around 8am when seventh-grade students from the nearby Zubbairyah seminary were attending a class there.

KP police chief Dr Sanaullah Abbasi told reporters at the crime scene that they were investigating the incident. He said about five kilograms of explosives were used in the attack; however, there was no specific alert about this attack.

Medics at the Lady Reading Hospital confirmed they rece­ived seven bodies and an eig­h­th victim died from wounds later. “We have treated 95 injured for blast wounds,” an LRH spokesperson told Dawn.

He said that majority of the injured were suffering from hea­ring loss and burn wounds. Up to 90 per cent of the injured were discharged after providing initial treatment, while those who had sustained serious wounds were admitted, he added.

Some victims were also taken to other hospitals.

Security sources told Dawn that a sophisticated timed device was used in the attack. “The attack does not bear signature of usual suspects like Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan [TTP] and its other offshoots,” a senior official said, adding that it appeared to be handiwork of a rather well-trained and an organised new group.

“The explosives impact indicates that military grade explosive or TNT was used in the attack,” the source said, adding that perhaps why the blast left a big crater in hard marble floor. “It is a sophisticated job.”

He said that locally made explosives would not have left such a big crater. He said heavy quantity of pellets were also used to turn the device more lethal.

Eyewitnesses told Dawn that the attack targeted a class with Sheikh Rahimuddin Haqqani, a senior cleric and instructor. However, the source said, Sheikh was the apparent target of the blast. Sheikh, an Afghan national from Jalalabad, remained safe in the attack.

Abu Bakar, a teenager belonging to Afghanistan who was inside the mosque at the time of the blast, said the mosque was jam-packed with students when the blast occurred. “There was a deafening thud and the entire mosque filled with smoke and flames,” he said. He said that soon after the blast, a band of students who were the Sheikh’s followers, threw themselves over him and immediately rushed him out of harm’s way.

Sheikh Haqqani also streams his Hadith lessons from the mosque live on his Facebook page, followed by about 119,000 people. On Tuesday morning, he was teaching from Mishkat Sharif, an anthology of traditions of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), which was also shown live on his page. A 26-minute video of the lesson was still available on his page at the time of filing of this report in the evening. The bomb hit into the 25th minute of his lesson and threw everything up in air. Only cries and wails could be heard in the audio.

One of the students could be heard asking about the Sheikh’s safety towards the end of the audio. Someone tells him that he had been taken away safely, before the streaming stops.

Sheikh is also known to transmit on his Facebook page religious debates with other clerics. Lately, he had engaged in a theological debate with another cleric Sheikh Afzal Alsalafi Al Swati, who used his own Facebook page for his transmissions, with over 60,000 followers.

The highly heated debate between both sides amidst charges of heresy exchanged by the debaters was into its third week. It is important to mention that the KP government had carried out a survey to identify Afghan clerics teaching at seminaries or mosques and had made an effort to remove them, but apparently nothing came of it.

The seminary administrator told Dawn that a couple of days back some policemen had visited the place and asked them to improve their security. He said that after the police visit, they were checking identity cards of all their students before letting them in to attend lectures.

He said about 1,000 students were enrolled in the seminary, which is situated across the street away from the mosque and is a rather cramped place for such a large number of students.

The rooms are crowded and stuffed with bags of flour and rice heaped in a pile next to the entrance. The place was so overcrowded that the administration had partitioned the verandah with curtains to turn them into small rooms for the large number of students to stay and sleep. The mosque, where the blast took place, is spacious and open. The blast left a big crater towards the northern side. The full impact of the blast was visible on the roof. Flying shrapnel from the explosive device had left bits and pieces of human remains plastered to the roof. Locals were trying to scrub clean the walls and the roofs to prepare the mosque for noon prayers.

Sheikh Haqqani had survived a previous attempt by IS to assassinate him four years ago. Sources said he was shot and injured in a gun attack back in August 2016. They said that during investigation of the gun attack, police had arrested a group of militants linked to the Islamic State (IS).

Published in Dawn, October 28th, 2020