Outlawed TTP takes responsibility for attack; security inside Police Lines at high alert
PESHAWAR: The number of fatalities in a devastating suicide bombing at a crowded mosque at the Police Lines compound in Peshawar has surged to 72 as rescue teams retrieved nine more bodies from the debris of the mosque in the predawn hours of Tuesday.
According to police, the explosion occurred in the central hall of the mosque at 1 PM, causing the roof to come crashing down upon those who were offering Zuhr prayers at the time.
According to security officials, the suicide attacker was present in the front row during the Zuhr prayer when he exploded himself. Sahibzada Noor Ul Amin, Imam of the mosque, was also martyred in the blast, police said.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has taken responsibility for the attack.
KP Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan has announced a day of mourning in the province tomorrow (Tuesday) following the heinous attack.
The national flag will be at half-mast across the province, he said, adding, “The government share the grief of the martyrs’ families.”
The interim CM also assured the aggrieved families that the provincial government would not leave them alone in the aftermath of the tragedy.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also reached Peshawar where he was briefed on all aspects about the blast.
He also visited the injured at the Lady Reading Hospital in the city. He was accompanied by the Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.
After being questioned by PM Shehbaz about the attack on the mosque, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari said that “investigations are underway” about how the attack happened and how the terrorist entered the vicinity.
“Don’t know where the attacker came from and how he entered,” Ansari said while briefing the premier.
The police chief further said that “there are family quarters inside the Police Lines and the attacker could be already living in the area”.
According to a notification issued by the Additional Inspector General Quarter, the entry of guests in the Peshawar Police Lines has been banned and strict action will be taken against violation of the orders.
“Guards at the gate and security staff of the Police Lines should remain on high alert,” the notification read.
Two more bodies were pulled out of the rubble, official of the Rescue 1122 said, adding that the services recovered five people trapped under the wreckage.
“Two injured and three dead bodies have been retrieved from the rubble,” the rescue spokesperson Bilal Faizi said.
Meanwhile, spokesperson of the Lady Reading Hospital Muhammad Asim said that 157 injured people were brought to the medical facility after the blast.
“Bodies of 44 people were also transferred to the hospital. At the moment, around 65 injured are getting treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital. Some of the injured are critical, while condition of most is satisfactory,” Asim said, adding that most people among the injured and dead included police officers.
Following the blast, the injured were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. The hospital appealed citizens to donate blood for the victims.
The Khyber Medical College’s Forensic department dean said that the postmortem of 40 bodies has been completed. “Bodies of the 40 people have been handed over to their families. A report will be prepared once autopsies of all bodies are done.”
Funeral prayer of 27 martyrs have been performed with Corp Commander Peshawar, IG Police, Commandant Frontier Corps in attendance.
The police team saluted the martyrs, while strict security measures were taken around the Police Lines area.
Capital City Police Officer, Peshawar (CCPO) Ejaz Khan, while talking to media, said that it was too early to say anything as many policemen are still trapped under the rubble.
"We are currently focused on the rescue operation. We cannot say with surety but there is a smell of explosives inside the mosque," said the CCPO. He added that headquarters of the Peshawar Police, Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), Frontier Reserve Police (FRP), Elite Force and telecommunications department are also located near the blast site.
"Close to 300-400 policemen usually offer prayer at the Zuhr time. If a blast has taken place inside police lines then it is a security lapse but an investigation into the matter can reveal further," said the CCPO.
Caretaker Chief Minister Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) Muhammad Azam Khan imposed a medical emergency in all hospitals of Peshawar. The interim CM also instructed rescue organisations to speed up relief activities.
The CM has ordered to ensure immediate measures to transfer the injured to the hospital, directing the concerned authorities to provide timely medical assistance to the injured who are being shifted to hospitals.
Meanwhile, the provincial health department had announced a “medical emergency” in the city in the wake of the Police Lines Peshawar bomb blast.
“All the doctors and support staff in the government health facilities including MTIs in district Peshawar are directed to remain on red alert to cope with the emergencies, till further orders,” the notification issued in this regard.
An eyewitness told the media that he was going to the mosque when the explosion took place.
“It was a powerful explosion. There was smoke everywhere after the blast," said the eyewitness. He added that after gaining consciousness he saw the mosque's roof collapsed.
"There were at least 120 people in the mosque when the incident took place. It was a suicide blast because the bomber was inside the mosque's inner courtyard. The Zuhr prayer had just started when it happened. There were mostly policemen among the injured," said the eyewitness.
President of the Civil Secretariat Association PeshawarTassavur Iqbal, who regularly prays at the mosque, said that the Police Lines area's security is always high and no one can enter without showing their identity and body search.
"This is an unfortunate incident that took place here today. This is a big mosque and 400-500 people can offer prayer at a time. We are hearing that the building collapsed after the blast," said Iqbal.
Journalist Qaiser explained that the Police Lines is located in Peshawar Cantt's most sensitive area where a large number of law enforcement and FC personnel are present round the clock.
"The offices of KP's Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and police investigation department are situated here. Usually, 1,000 police personnel are present at the police headquarters," he added.
The journalist said that in order to go inside the area one has to stop at two police checkposts.
"The bomber was able to sneak inside after passing through checking three times," said the journalist.
Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi deemed the attack "heinous and cowardly". In his tweet, he wrote about finding and punishing the perpetrators.
PM Shehbaz strongly condemned the blast, adding that the blast inside a mosque proves that those involved in the attack have “nothing to do with Islam.”
“These terrorists are trying to instil fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said, assuring the people that the coalition government will take strict action against those involved.
Speaking to Geo News, Khawaja Asif revealed that the roof fell due to the intensity of blast, adding that the hospitals have been overwhelmed.
He said that the police have been targeted, emphasising that the machinery that controlled terrorism before needs to be activated again.
Asif assured the people that the law and order situation in KP will be restored as measures are being taken.
The defence minister said that even though they receive threats, people cannot be stopped from entering a mosque.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, condemning the incident, said that strict action will be taken against the terrorists, their backers and facilitators.
Terror incidents before general and by-elections are "meaningful", he added.
Planning Minister Ahsan Iqbal said that suicide attack was the "worst form" of terrorism.
"The aim of such brutal and cowardly attacks is to weaken the nation's resolve against terrorism, but this resolve will be strengthened by every drop of blood and martyrdom," said the minister.
PTI Chairman Imran Khan also took to Twitter to condemn the suicide attack.
"My prayers and condolences go to victims families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism," said Khan.
Former president and Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari condemned the incident, saying that the terrorists being active in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is "extremely dangerous".
He said that the government should end the nurseries of terrorism by following the national action plan.
Former provincial chief minister Mahmood Khan strongly condemned the incident, saying that the blast is very "heartbreaking".
"The loss of lives is extremely upsetting," said Khan while praying for the martyrs and for the speedy recovery of the injured.
Inspector General of Islamabad Dr Akbar Nasir Khan issued orders to put security on high alert in the federal capital.
Moreover, checking has been increased at all the entry and exit points in the city while monitoring is being done by Safe City Capital Command and Control Centre Islamabad.
Snipers have also been deployed at important sites and buildings.
This is a developing story and is being updated with more details.