By Sirajuddin, Arif Hayat, Islamabad(DAWN), Jan 30: A blast inside a mosque shook Peshawar’s Police Lines area on Monday, with officials saying that at least 28 people were killed and 150 were injured.
Peshawar Commissioner Riaz Mehsood confirmed the casualties, adding that a rescue operation was underway inside the mosque.
“An emergency has been imposed at hospitals across the city and injured persons are being provided the best medical facilities,” the senior official said.
Meanwhile, Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson Mohammad Asim told Dawn.com that a number of injured persons were in critical condition.
Speaking to the media, Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Peshawar 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.”
“The smell of explosives has been detected but it is too early to say anything substantial,” he said.
Khan said between 300 to 400 police officials 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 have 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”.
Dawn.com’s correspondent at the blast site said the explosion took place at around 1:40 pm 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 have been closed.
So far, it is still unclear whether a bomb was planted in the mosque or if it was a suicide attack. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.
A witness told Dawn.com that he was performing wudhu in the compound of the mosque when a powerful explosion threw him to 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.
The last major incident of such a nature had taken place in Peshawar last year when a suicide blast inside a Shia mosque in the Kocha Risaldar area claimed 63 lives.
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 will not go in vain. “The entire nation is standing united against the menace of terrorism.”
PM Shehbaz also said that a comprehensive strategy will 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 the local and general elections were meaningful”.
A tweet by PPP’s media cell quoted Bilawal as saying that strict action will be taken against the terrorists, their patrons and their facilitators.
Bilawal stressed that the National Action Plan was the only solution to the issue of terrorism and promised: “it would be implemented strictly”.
He also called party workers and position-holders to donate their blood to save the lives of the injured.
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 & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” he added.
Meanwhile, former 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.
Security high-alert in Islamabad
Islamabad Inspector General 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.