Death toll from suicide attack on mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines rises to 100

Published January 31, 2023
Authorities use heavy machinery to clear the rubble and search for victims a day after a suicide blast at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31. — AFP
Authorities use heavy machinery to clear the rubble and search for victims a day after a suicide blast at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31. — AFP
Authorities use heavy machinery to clear the rubble and search for victims a day after a suicide blast at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31. — AFP
Authorities use heavy machinery to clear the rubble and search for victims a day after a suicide blast at a mosque inside the police headquarters in Peshawar on January 31. — AFP

The death toll from the suicide attack on a mosque in Peshawar’s Police Lines area a day earlier rose to 100 on Tuesday after more bodies were recovered from the attack site.

Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) spokesperson Mohammad Asim said that 100 dead bodies had been brought to the medical facility. In a statement, he said 53 injured citizens were currently being treated seven of whom had been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).

He said that most of the injured were out of danger, adding that all the injured were being provided medical facilities free-of-cost.

On Monday, 59 people, mostly police officials, were martyred and over 150 were injured after an explosion ripped through a mosque in Peshawar’s Red Zone area. The powerful blast blew away the wall of the prayer hall and an inner roof.

The outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed responsibility for the attack. It later distanced itself from it but sources earlier indicated that it might have been the handiwork of some local faction of the outlawed group.

Peshawar Division Commissioner Riaz Mehsud said that the rescue and search operation at the blast site has been completed, after almost 24 hours.

Earlier, Rescue 1122 spokesperson Bilal Faizi had said that rescue teams were removing the last part of the collapsed roof of the mosque. “But we are not hopeful of reaching any survivors.”

Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan said that more than 90 per cent of the victims were policemen, between 300 and 400 of whom had gathered in the compound’s mosque for prayers.

Wajahat Ali, a 23-year-old police constable who survived, said that he had lost all hopes for survival. “I remained trapped under the rubble with a dead body over me for seven hours,” he told AFP from the LRH.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, meanwhile, called on all political forces to unite against anti-state elements in the aftermath of the attack.

“Through their despicable actions, terrorists want to spread fear and paranoia among the masses and reverse our hard-earned gains against terrorism and militancy. My message to all political forces is one of unity against anti-Pakistan elements. We can fight our political fights later.”

Police say it was a ‘suicide bomber’, constitute JIT to probe attack

In a media briefing at the Police Lines on Tuesday afternoon, KP Inspector General (IG) Mauzzam Jah Ansari said that the most pertinent question at the moment was how a “suicide bomber” was able to enter Police Lines and go to the mosque.

He said that there was no “central command” at the Police Lines and the checking mechanism was limited to the gate.

“There are canteens present, some construction work was also ongoing. Somehow [explosive] material was brought here in small quantities over a period of time.” He said that the premises housed a complaint centre due to which the general public was coming and going.

He said that the bomber entered the premises in this manner without the explosive material and then later went to the mosque where he blew himself up. “In this regard, a security lapse is also being investigated. A separate committee headed by the Peshawar CCPO has been constituted,” he said.

He further said that Caretaker Chief Minister Azam Khan had constituted a joint investigation team (JIT) to probe the attack.

“It will be an multi-agency JIT comprising intelligence, police, and other security officials. The team will be led by a senior DIG who won’t be a member of the Peshawar police,” he said.

“We are examining CCTV footage […] you can’t expect this probe to be completed in 24 hours,” Ansari said, adding that the police would try to reveal its findings as soon as possible.

In response to a question, the IG said that officials estimated that 10-12 kilogrammes of explosive material was used. “Most of the damage was not caused by the explosive material; the shockwaves from the blast caused the roof to cave in, burying people under the rubble.”

The IGP stated that after the TTP denied their involvement in the attack and “the police have suspicions that Jamaatul Ahrar may be involved in the incident”.

“Jamaatul Ahrar has been involved with TTP to some extent but for some time, after the death of Omar Khalid Khorasani, they are split. Similarly, there is IS-KPK […] they issued a claim last night and we are investigating it.

“Such groups often give exaggerated claims. We will take our probe forward and we do not rely on their claims,” he added.

Earlier, an initial police report of the bombing — a copy of which is available with Dawn.com — said the explosion occurred inside the main hall of a mosque — which has a capacity of 300 to 350 people — located in the Police Lines area.

The locality comprises headquarters of the Capital City Police, Frontier Reserve Police, Elite Police Force, Counter Terrorism Department, Tele Communication Branch, RRF and SCU etc, it stated.

The statement said that the blast caused the roof of the mosque to collapse and a rescue operation was underway by the Pakistan Army and Rescue 1122, for retrieval of casualties.

“A severed head has been recovered from inside the debris. The use of explosives in the incident has been confirmed, while other factors are being evaluated to confirm the nature of the blast,” it said.

The report added that suicide bombing could not be “ruled out” and investigation by various teams was under way.

Funeral prayers for police martyrs offered

Separately, funeral prayers for six policemen, including deputy superintendent of police Arab Nawaz and Ismatullah, were offered earlier today at the Police Lines area.

On Monday night, collective funeral prayers for 27 police martyrs were offered in Peshawar’s Police Lines area with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Police Chief Mauzzam Jah Ansari, army officers and officials of civil administration in attendance.

After the prayers, the coffins of the martyrs — lined in a row and draped with the national flag — were sent to their hometowns for burial with official protocol.

Speaking on the occasion, KP IG Mauzzam Jah Ansari said that the KP police were always ready to sacrifice their lives for the protection of people’s lives and property.

“As the head of this force, I salute the police officials who lost their lives in the deadly blast. These martyrs are our real heroes and their sacrifices will not be in vain,” he said, adding that the bereaved families would not be abandoned and their welfare would be the “prime responsibility” of the KP police.

Day of mourning in KP

On Monday night, KP Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan announced a day of mourning across the province today to condemn the deadliest attack of the year.

“The national flag will be at half-mast across the province,” he said, adding that the government shared the grief of the martyrs’ families.

Khan further assured the aggrieved families that the provincial government would not leave them alone amid testing times in the aftermath of the tragedy.

Rabbani demands parliamentary inquiry into TTP’s ‘rehabilitation’ policy

PPP Senator Raza Rabbani on Tuesday demanded a parliamentary inquiry into the previous government’s “rehabilitation policy” for the proscribed TTP.

 PPP Senator speaks during a Senate session on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV
PPP Senator speaks during a Senate session on Tuesday. — DawnNewsTV

Condemning the Peshawar bombing in a Senate session, he stressed that Pakistan needed to review the causes of the rise in terrorism. “The TTP’s rehabilitation policy, which was initiated by the [previous] government, is the foundation of this.”

After the fall of the US-supported Ashraf Ghani government in Afghanistan in 2021, the Afghan Taliban had facilitated peace talks between the government and the TTP.

While negotiations with the banned group reportedly began in October 2021 under the PTI government’s watch, the process continued in fits and starts when the Shehbaz Sharif government took over.

In response, the banned outfit had declared a ceasefire and stopped its attacks on security forces, extending the truce in May. The government had also sent delegations of tribal elders and ulema to Kabul in order to persuade the TTP to end its activities and surrender its weapons.

The months-long negotiations, however, remained inconclusive and ultimately ended in November last year. Major sticking points included the TTP’s demands to roll back the merger of the erstwhile tribal areas with KP, release hardened terrorists, as well as the group’s refusal to lay down their arms. These were obvious red lines the state could not let the militants cross.

Addressing the upper house of Parliament today, Rabbani recalled that when the Taliban returned to Afghanistan, some thousands of people with weapons were allowed to enter Pakistan.

“It was said that they are good Taliban and they will work according to the law and Constitution […] it was said they will be rehabilitated,” he said.

The senator pointed out that neither the public nor Parliament was taken into confidence over the matter. “Even at that time, Parliament had said that a joint session should be called and all these things should be presented before it so that the public’s opinion could be brought forward.”

Rabbani went on to say that permission was also not taken from the National Security Committee, instead, it was just told that negotiations with the TTP were under way.

“The negotiations were outsourced to a jirga. PPP and ANP had strong reservations about them,” he said, demanding that a parliamentary inquiry should be conducted into the matter.

The senator also said that the terrorism policy should be discussed in the joint sitting of the Parliament on Feb 8.

“All the stakeholders and political parties should be called to the Parliament for a dialogue. This is the question of life and death but parties are busy in doing politics,” he added.

Sherry calls for implementation of NAP

In a series of tweets on Tuesday morning, Climate Change Minister and PPP leader Sherry Rehman called for the swift implementation of the National Action Plan (NAP) and national unity.

“The nation, all political parties and every partner should stand united in the fight against terrorism. The country cannot afford further division and terrorism,” she said.

Rehman said that terrorists got a chance to reorganise due to the “unclear policy of the previous government”.

“Now Imran Khan is saying that his government wanted to resettle the Taliban in KP. Such irresponsible statements are an attempt to create a soft corner in terrorist organisations,” she said, adding that the PPP had serious concerns over the new wave of terrorism before the elections.

Earlier this month, the PTI chief had said that his governm­ent had planned to resettle banned TTP fighters in Pakistan’s tribal districts with the help of the Afghan Taliban, but the plan hit a snag owing to the non-cooperation of provinces.

“The gov­­e­r­n­ment had planned to relocate at least 5,000 TTP fighters and their family members which amount to about 35,000,” he had revealed in a virtual seminar, adding that the plan did not materialise as provinces refused to foot the bill.

India offers condolences

India offered condolences and “strongly” condemned the attack, which it said “has taken the lives of so many people”.

In a tweet posted by Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, he said: “India extends its deep condolences to the families of the victims of the terror attack in Peshawar yesterday. We strongly condemn this attack, which has taken the lives of so many people.”

Sanaullah says previous policy against TTP didn’t proven to be effective

During an appearance on Geo News show ‘Aaj Shahzeb Khanzada Kay Sath’ on Monday night, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah was asked how a terrorist attacker was able to enter a sensitive location despite prior threats alerts.

The minister, who had accompanied the premier to a visit to Peshawar yesterday, said PM Shehbaz had asked the same question during the briefing by officials.

“The answer the KP IG gave was that while the area is sensitive, there is a lot of footfall and there are approximately 2,000 family members living in the area where the mosque is located.”

When Khanzada pointed out that terrorism incidents in the country were on the rise, the minister said: “KP police is carrying out intelligence-based operations (IBOs) with a lot of courage. Other law enforcement agencies — including the army, Rangers, Frontier Corps — are all carrying out IBOs which are leading to the deaths and arrest of militants.

“So its not as if terrorists have been given free rein in the area. Law enforcement agencies are fighting against this with courage but they [militants] get space or find someone to facilitate them which makes them successful in carrying out such attacks.”

He asserted that the state was working on rooting out terrorism “but the Taliban have been provided a safe haven by a neighbouring friendly country”.

When the anchorperson pointed out the previous government’s plan to rehabilitate the Pakistani Taliban, the minister said: “This policy, I don’t say that there was any malintent involved — it is possible that it was started with good intentions — but this policy has proven to be wrong.”

The idea that the TTP was different from the Afghan Taliban, that they could be brought under the law and made to lay down arms, and that they would become “law abiding citizens” did not succeed, he said, adding that the effects of this policy had instead resulted in the opposite.

Surge in terrorism

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.


With additional input from APP, AFP

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