Suicide Bombing in Pakistan Mosque Kills 59
Rescue workers carry the remains of victims after a suicide bombing destroys a mosque in the fortified Police Lines area of Peshawar on Jan. 30, 2023. (Abdul Majeed/AFP via Getty Images)

Suicide Bombing in Pakistan Mosque Kills 59

A suicide bombing in Police Lines, Peshawar, a highly secured area in Pakistan’s sixth most populous city, is only the latest in a series of deadly terror attacks

Fifty-nine people were killed and at least 157 are reportedly injured after a suicide bombing at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan during afternoon prayers on Monday. The attack took place in the Police Lines area of Peshawar, a fortified section of the city that houses the police headquarters.

As soon as the explosion was reported, soldiers, police officers, and emergency responders arrived at the site and began transporting the injured to hospitals. Peshawar hospitals declared a state of emergency soon after the explosion. Most of the injured, including police personnel, were shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital, the city’s largest.

Lady Reading spokesman Muhammad Asim told The Media Line that “the majority of the injured are police officials, some of whom are in critical condition.” He added that the death count may continue to rise.

Police Lines is designated as a red zone under Pakistan’s security scheme, just as federal government buildings are. The red zone designation entails a high level of security.

According to a counterterrorism official, the bombing was a suicide attack perpetrated by a worshipper in the first row. The blast destroyed most of the mosque and security officials fear that more people are buried under the rubble.

“At least 300 to 400 police personnel were present in the area at the time of the blast. It is apparent that a security lapse occurred,” Peshawar police officer Muhammad Ijaz Khan told The Media Line.

Following the Peshawar blast, security has been put on high alert in the federal capital of Islamabad and the adjacent garrison city of Rawalpindi.

Bilal Faizi, spokesperson for Rescue 1122, the emergency service that serves Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, of which Peshawar is the capital city, told The Media Line that the mosque’s prayer leader Sheik Noor Ul Amin was among those who lost their lives.

“The roof of the main hall of the mosque has collapsed along with the dome, and it is feared that many people have been buried under the debris. Heavy machinery is being used to clear the roof wreckage,” Faizi said.

According to Faizi, many worshippers remain trapped in the rubble. Rescue 1122 is providing critical care and attempting to free those who are trapped.

Authorities have reported an urgent need for blood at Lady Reading Hospital and have called on those with negative blood types to donate blood at the hospital.

Widespread condemnation and no claims of responsibility

No group or organization has claimed responsibility for the attack. Some suspect the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, which, last November, ended a temporary ceasefire with the Pakistani government and declared that it would resume attacks. TTP has claimed responsibility for other recent terror attacks throughout the country.

Earlier last week, Pakistan’s top Islamic scholars and clerics declared in a joint statement that “sabotage and all forms of terrorism are unequivocally forbidden according to Islamic teaching and are considered a rebellion or mutiny.”

Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, a prominent Pakistani Islamic scholar, also issued an Islamic decree that “TTP, who is fighting against the Pakistan Army and is involved in anti-state activities, is a rebel and it has nothing to do with jihad.”

Soon after the attack, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif along with Chief of Army Staff Gen. Asim Munir arrived in Peshawar. Sharif and Munir, flanked by Defense Minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, and other executives, met with survivors at Lady Reading Hospital.

Sharif later chaired a high-level meeting during which he was briefed on the attack and other security-related issues.

In a statement, 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.

Former Prime Minister Imran Khan also strongly condemned the bombing. “My prayers & condolences go to victims’ families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” Khan tweeted.

The US diplomatic mission in Pakistan tweeted that “the United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”

A history of terrorism

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a province in Pakistan’s northwest that borders Afghanistan. It was once known as the city of flowers, but after the US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the city became a hotbed for suicide attacks.

In March 2022, a suicide bomber targeted a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, killing 63 people and injuring more than 200. The attack was one of the worst the city had seen since December 2014, when six TTP terrorists stormed the Army Public School and killed more than 150 people, most of them children, in the world’s fourth-deadliest school massacre.

The Media Line spoke with Waleed Parwez, director general of the Open Source Intelligence and Strategic Communications Directorate at the Pakistan Strategic Forum, an Islamabad-based think tank focused on defense and security. Parwez told The Media Line that, while TTP has not officially claimed responsibility for the bombing, a TTP spokesperson has unofficially said that the attack was a revenge operation for the killing of Omar Khalid Khorasani.

Khorasani was a founder and top commander of the TTP who was killed along with three associates in a roadside bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan in November 2022.

Parwez told The Media Line that Khorasani’s successor and his brother both described the attack as retaliation on the part of TTP. TTP has not denied involvement in the bombing.

“The massive casualty count means that the Pakistani security forces and the intelligence community will now resume hitting back at TTP high-level commanders inside Afghanistan, and the armed forces will resume large-scale counterinsurgency operations in certain militant-infected border regions,” Parwez said. He suggested that the attack would prompt large-scale counterterrorism operations within Pakistan as well.

Pakistani human rights activist Haiwad Khan Khattak told The Media Line that acts of terror such as the Police Lines bombing “are not a new thing for us. For the past two decades, we have become accustomed to picking up the mutilated bodies of our loved ones in such incidents.”

Khattak expressed frustration that emerging terrorism has not been taken seriously by the mainstream media nor by the country’s political leadership.

“To deal with this serious calamity, politicians and institutions will have to come together to make a coordinated plan of action,” he said.

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