A blast inside a mosque shook Peshawar’s Police Lines area on Monday, with officials saying that at least 59 people were killed and 157 were injured.
Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) spokesman Mohammad Asim confirmed the number of casualties as efforts to rescue those trapped under the rubble continued into the night.
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 — which had 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.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif called on PML-N workers to donate blood for those injured the blast, especially those with O negative blood group.
At the same time, he also urged the nation to reach LRH without any delay and play a role in saving precious lives.
Over the past few months, the law and order situation in the country has worsened, with terrorist groups executing attacks with near impunity across the country.
Since the talks with the TTP broke down in November, the militant group has intensified its attacks, particularly targeting the police in KP and areas bordering Afghanistan. Insurgents in Balochistan have also stepped up their violent activities and formalised a nexus with the outlawed TTP.
On January 22, a police vehicle narrowly escaped a bomb blast in Peshawar’s Badaber area. A day earlier, a policeman was martyred and two others were injured when unidentified assailants attacked a police post in Dheri Zardad locality of Charsadda.
On January 14, a deputy superintendent and two constables were martyred when militants, armed with automatic assault weapons, targeted the Sarband police station on the outskirts of the province’s capital, Peshawar late at night.
PM, COAS visit Peshawar
PM Shehbaz and Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir visited Peshawar and were briefed on the blast. Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah were also present.
During the visit, the premier was given a briefing by the Peshawar Corps Commander about the motives behind the terror attacks while the provincial police chief presented an initial report on the blast. The prime minister was also shown CCTV footage of the blast.
Speaking on the occasion, the premier vowed to implement the National Action Plan in addition to enhancing the capacity of anti-terrorism institutions.
He said the cowardly terror attacks could not weaken the nation’s resolve against terrorism, adding that miscreants and their facilitators would be punished for their heinous crimes.
PM Shehbaz later visited LRH to inquire about the injured. He toured different wards and directed the hospital administration to provide the injured with the best medical facilities.
Taking to Twitter after his visit, the prime minister said: “Just returned from Peshawar. The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable.
“This is no less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief. I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge,” he said.
“While the pain of the grieving families cannot be described in words, I express my heartfelt condolences and most sincere sympathies. My message to the perpetrators of today’s despicable incident is that you can’t underestimate the resolve of our people,” he said.
The police headquarters in Peshawar is in one of the most tightly controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus, and is next door to the regional secretariat.
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.”
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.
Later in the day, Bilawal took to his own Twitter to condemn the attack. “Deeply saddened at loss of innocent lives; my heartfelt condolences to the affected families. Such cowardly acts will not deter our resolve against acts of terrorism in Pakistan,” he said.
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.
PTI’s Shibli Faraz condemned the attack but said the government had “failed to maintain security of its citizens”.
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, Sindh
Islamabad Inspector General (IG) 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.
Meanwhile, Sindh IG Ghulam Nabi Memon issued a red alert for the province after the Peshawar blast.
“Security arrangements at mosques, imambargahs and other important religious places should be strengthened,” the provincial police chief said.
Memon also directed police to enhance patrolling and snap-checking. He said the crackdown against criminals should be made effective through monitoring and intelligence collection.
Additional input from AFP, APP and Imtiaz Ali