A suspected suicide bomber has struck a Pakistani mosque, killing at least 100 people and injuring more than 200 others. The death toll initially believed to be 59, rose above the one-hundred mark on Tuesday as rescuers’ efforts to bring out victims alive turned into a recovery of dead bodies.
About 300 people were said to have gathered in the mosque in Peshawar, a city in northwest Pakistan, for evening prayers when the bomb exploded, forcing parts of the building to collapse. Rescue operators had to pull out debris before reaching the victims, who were mostly dead.
The spokesperson of the Lady Reading Hospital, a government hospital in the city, said at least 100 people have been confirmed dead following the attack bombing of the mosque.
“The ceiling fell in… the space in between the ceiling and wall is where I managed to survive,” Nasarullah Khan, a police officer who survived the attack, said. He added that a plume of black dust followed the bombing of the mosque.
Khan said he was stuck in the rubble for three hours and broke his foot in the process. Most of the victims of the bombing were police officers and other law enforcement officials, as the incident took place in one of the country’s most guarded areas. It is home to the city’s police headquarters and intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus. Although the motive behind the attack remains unknown, the circumstances surrounding it have led many to conclude that the officials were the targets.
Photos and videos shared on social media showed the windows of the mosque shattered and the walls reduced to fragments. As rescue operations continue, officials say the hope of finding more survivors is getting slimmer and slimmer.
“We are not expecting anyone alive to be found. Mostly dead bodies are being recovered,” Bilal Faizi, a spokesperson to the rescue team, said Tuesday amid the last-minute effort to find bodies in the rubbles.
Security officials would have done better
Since the mosque is located in an area where security is prioritised, officials are wondering how the suicide bomber evaded every checkpoint to enter the mosque. Although the country’s counter-terrorism police are still investigating how the suspect entered the mosque, Ghulam Ali, the provincial governor in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, said everything happened because of security negligence.
“Yes, it was a security lapse,” Ghulam Ali stated. Like Ali, Kashif Aftab Abbasi, a senior government official in Peshawar, also opined that there was a security lapse.
“There was a security lapse and the inspector-general of the police has set up an inquiry committee, which will look into all aspects of the bombing,” Abbasi stated.
Akhtar Ali Shah, a former regional interior secretary, believes the attack was only possible because officials from within must have aided it.
“It was not a spur-of-the-moment attack,” Akhtar Shah said. “It was the handiwork of a well-organised group.” He suggested that the attackers could have entered the mosque several times before Monday’s attack, adding that he could have even planted explosives before the attack.
“Action will be taken against those whose negligence caused the attack,” Talat Masood, a security analyst and retired army general, told journalists on Tuesday.
“When we know that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) is active, and when we know that they have threatened to carry out attacks, there should have been more security at the police compound in Peshawar,” he continued.
Who was responsible, the TTP or not?
Following Monday’s attack, many fingers pointed to the dreaded Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) as being responsible for it. Everyone was waiting for the group to take responsibility for the deadly attack and it did not take long before that happened.
Sarbakaf Mohmand and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, both officials of the Pakistani Taliban, said the group was responsible for the attack, stating that it was revenge for the death of Khalid Khorasani, a member of the group.
However, the main spokesperson of the TTP later denied any involvement of the group in Monday’s attack, which was a deviation from what was earlier stated by members of the same group.
“Regarding the Peshawar incident, we consider it necessary to clarify that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has nothing to do with this incident. According to our laws and general constitution, any action in mosques, madrasas, funerals grounds, and other sacred places is an offence,” TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khorasani said in a statement late Monday.
Officials are still investigating the incident and are yet to confirm if the group was responsible.
Like the Taliban in Afghanistan, Pakistani Taliban’s goal is to overthrow the government through terrorist attacks. Its leader, Noor Wali Mehsud, has pledged his allegiance to the Afghan Taliban, and the group has links with A-Qaeda.
Uniting against the enemies of Pakistan
The prime minister of Pakistan, Shehbaz Sharif, has condemned Monday’s incident with the strongest possible terms, describing it as an attack on the entire country. The president, who visited Peshawar following the bombing, said the terrorists were not connected to Islam as the “brutal killing of Muslims prostrating before Allah is against the teachings of the Quran.”
He called on all politicians, no matter their political beliefs, to unite and fight the terror that has hit the country.
“Terrorists want to spread fear and panic among people through heinous acts and nullify our achievements of great sacrifices against terrorism and extremism,” Mr Sharif wrote. “My message to all political forces is to unite against the enemies of Pakistan. We will fight our political quarrels later.”
Mr Sharif called on citizens to donate blood for the injured victims of the attack and declared a national mourning for the deceased. On Tuesday, a ceremonial sending-off was held for the policemen that lost their lives. Officials say the death toll could increase as some victims in the hospital are in critical condition.