Blast at mosque in northwestern Pakistan kills scores of worshippers

Blast at mosque in northwestern Pakistan kills scores of worshippers

Security officials inspect the site of a mosque explosion in Peshawar, Pakistan, on January 30, 2023. MAAZ ALI/AFP/Getty Images

A suicide bomber struck a crowded mosque at a police compound in Pakistan on Monday, collapsing the roof and killing at least 44 people and injuring more than 150 others, officials said.

Most of the victims were police officers. It was not clear how the bomber managed to penetrate the walled compound that houses the police headquarters in the north western city of Peshawar and is itself in a high security zone with other government buildings.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. The militant group’s main spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

Pakistan, which is largely Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their truce with government forces. The attack on a Sunni mosque on Monday was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in years.

More than 300 worshipers were praying at the mosque, and the numbers kept coming when the bomber detonated its explosive vest. According to Zafar Khan, a local police officer, many were injured when the roof collapsed.

Rescuers scrambled to clear piles of rubble from the mosque grounds to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble, police said.

Meena Gul, who was inside the mosque when the bomb went off, said he didn’t know how he survived unharmed. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard screams and screams after the blast.

Siddique Khan, a police officer, said the death toll had risen to 34 and the dead included Noor-ul-Amin, the prayer leader. He said the attacker blew himself up among the faithful.

Peshawar Police Chief Ijaz Khan said at least 150 were injured. A nearby hospital listed many of the wounded in critical condition and expressed concern the death toll could rise.

Map of Pakistan with its capital Islamabad and the Kashmir region.The Associated Press

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence, and the city has frequently been the scene of militant attacks.

The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has led an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years. It is calling for stricter enforcement of Islamic law, the release of its members held in government custody and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which it has long used as a base.

The group is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban, who seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 when US and NATO troops withdrew from the country after 20 years of war.

The government’s ceasefire with the TTP ended as Pakistan was still grappling with unprecedented floods that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and at one point inundated a third of the country.

Mohmand of the militant organization said a militant carried out the attack to avenge the assassination of Abdul Wali, widely known as Omar Khalid Khurasani, who was killed in August 2022 in neighboring Afghan province of Paktika.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and ordered the authorities to ensure the best possible medical treatment for the victims. He also promised “tight action” against those behind the attack.

Sharif traveled to Peshawar and visited the wounded in hospital. His office said he would receive a briefing on the security situation in the northwest.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan called the attack a “suicide terrorist attack” in a Twitter post. “My prayers and condolences go out to the families of the victims,” ​​said the ex-premier. “It is imperative that we improve our intelligence gathering and adequately equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Cash-strapped Pakistan is currently facing a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial $1.1 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund – part of its $6 billion bailout package – to avoid a default. Talks with the IMF about reviving the rescue package have stalled in recent months.

Sharif’s government came to power last April after Imran Khan was ousted in a vote of no confidence in parliament. Khan has since campaigned for a snap election, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a US-backed conspiracy. Washington and Sharif have dismissed Khan’s claims.

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