Unimaginable tragedy as terror revisits Peshawar

59 killed, over 150 injured in suicide blast at Peshawar mosque n many also trapped as mosque building collapsed n suicide bomber blows himself during prayer in Police Lines mosque n 15-kg explosives used in the incident n ccPo admits it was a security breakdown n ttP claims responsibility n Pm, coas, KP governor, cm, ministers visit blast site and LrH to inquire after health of injured persons n Pm says resolve of nation against terrorism unwavering in face of attacks n Preliminary report submitted to Pm

PESHAWAR      -    As many as 59 people were killed while over 150 injured when a suicide bomber blew himself at a mosque situated in Police Lines of the provincial capital here on Monday, officials said.

Security officials, confirming that it was a suicide attack, said the bomber was standing in the front row at the time of the explosion.

Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Muhammad Ijaz Khan told media that the mosque’s roof also fell after the blast. “The mosque’s main hall, which could hold 250 to 300 people, collapsed but the rest of the structure is still standing. A number of jawans are still trapped under the rubble, and rescuers are attempting to bring them out,” he said. He admitted that it was a security breakdown, adding that 300 to 400 police officers were present in the Police Lines at the time of the explosion.

Mohammad Asim, a spokeswoman for Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), verified the number of casualties, saying there were 59 lives lost till the filing of this report while over 150 were wounded and being treated at the hospital. The casualty figure may raise as the condition of many injured persons was stated to be critical.

According to authorities, Sahibzada Noor Ul Amin, the mosque’s Imam, was also killed in the bomb. A police official, who sustained injuries in the incident, said that he was also standing in the rows to offer prayer at the time of the blast.

“Just when the takbeer was uttered and the Imam started the prayer, there was a deafening sound. However, thank God, Allah saved the lives of some of us,” he added. Another witness told the media that he was on his way to the mosque when the explosion occurred. “There was a huge explosion. There was smoke everywhere following the explosion,” the eyewitness added. He went on to say that after regaining consciousness, he saw that the mosque’s roof had collapsed.

According to Rescue 1122 spokesperson Bilal Faizi, six injured persons were provided emergency medical treatment, who are still trapped under the wreckage, and rescue operation is underway for their safe recovery, till filing this report.

An official of the bomb disposal unit said it was a suicide bombing, and that around 15kg explosives were used in the incident. Officers from various departments were deliberating the case till the filing of this report while some speculated that the bomber might have arrived in a car dressed as a cop.

However, some investigators still doubted the suicide attack as they said the damage was much greater than the past attacks by bombers. 

The Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) meanwhile has claimed responsibility of the blast.

Sarbankaf Mohamad and Omar Mukaram Khurasani, the two officials from TTP, put out statements saying the blast was the ‘revenge’ for the death of TTP militant Khalid Khorasani last year.

KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali also visited the police lines and condemned the blast, while urging the people of Peshawar to donate blood for the injured to save lives.

According to the KP Governor some of the victims were still buried under the debris and the rescue workers were trying to retrieve them. He appealed to the people, particularly those having ‘O -ve’ negative blood group, to donate blood for the injured persons in the hospital.

KP’s Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan also condemned the blast and ordered emergency at hospitals to ensure treatment of those injured.

Later on, the chief minister also paid a visit to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) Peshawar to take stock of the healthcare facilities being provided to the injured ones of the incident and enquired about their health.

Meanwhile, through a tweet, former KP chief minister Mahmood Khan also called on PTI workers in Peshawar and adjoining areas to reach the LRH to donate blood to the victims.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Health Department imposed emergency in all three major hospitals of Peshawar, and directed the doctors, nurses and paramedical staff to join the operation on emergency basis.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also visited Peshawar to take stock of situation. He urged PML-N workers and other people across the country to donate blood for those injured in the attack, particularly those with the O negative blood group.

The PM was accompanied by federal ministers including Minister for Defence Khwaja Asif, Minister for Interior Rana Sanaullah, Minister for Information and Communication Maryam Aurangzeb.

Chief of Army Staff Syed Asim Munir received the prime minister on his arrival.

On the occasion, the PM said the cowardly terror attacks could not weaken resolve of the nation against terrorism and the miscreants and their facilitators involved in attacks on innocent citizens would be punished for their heinous crimes. The Corps Commander Peshawar briefed the prime minister about the motives behind the terror attacks.

Inspector General Police Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Muazzam Jah Ansari gave the initial investigative report about the suicide attack on the mosque. The PM was also shown CCTV footage of the suicide attack on the Police Lines mosque.

On this occasion, the prime minister said terrorists were attacking the security institutions which were defending Pakistan, adding the terrorists were making a nefarious attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and terror.

The strength of unity of institutions and people would foil the designs of terrorists, he said adding Pakistan had rendered great sacrifices against terrorism and sacrifices of the martyrs would not go waste.

Shehbaz Sharif said capacity of the anti-terrorism institutions and police would be enhanced and National Action Plan would be implemented comprehensively and with full force.

Meanwhile, the prime minister visited the Lady Reading Hospital to inquire after the persons injured in the blast.

He took rounds of different wards and met the injured. He directed the hospital administration to provide best medical facilities to the injured.

Speaking during his visit, he said those who shed blood of the worshippers could not be Muslims.

The criminals behind the terror attack would not be absolved by Allah Almighty, he remarked. He vowed to root out the terrorists.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Peshawar Riaz Mehsud also told media that there was no shortage of medicines in the hospitals and the rescue operation was underway to rescue the worshippers buried under the debris.

Soon after the news of the blast, people in a large number thronged the hospital to inquire about the whereabouts and health of their loved ones and donate blood for the victims.

Police and other law enforcement agencies personnel reached the Police Line and hospitals and took the security of the area to avoid any untoward incident.

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.”

The attack occurred in the provincial capital’s red zone, which houses the headquarters of the Peshawar Police, the Counter-Terrorism Department (CTD), the Frontier Reserve Police (FRP), the Elite Force, and the telecommunications department. The Police Lines is positioned in the most sensitive sector of Peshawar Cantt, where a huge number of law enforcement and FC troops are stationed around the clock.

In addition to the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) of KP, the police investigative department is located here. Normally, 1,000 police officers are stationed in the police headquarters. To enter the region, one must first stop at two police checkpoints. If it were a suicide bombing, then the bomber had been able to sneak inside after three passes through security.

The law and order situation has deteriorated in recent months, with militant groups carrying out assaults with near impunity across the country. Since the talks with the TTP collapsed in November, the militant group has increased its attacks, focusing on police in KP and districts bordering Afghanistan.

Insurgents in Balochistan have also increased their violent actions and formed an official alliance with the proscribed TTP.

A police truck nearly avoided a bomb detonation in Peshawar’s Badaber district on January 22. A day earlier, an unidentified assailant attacked a police post in Charsadda’s Dheri Zardad neighbourhood, killing one officer and injuring two others.

On January 14, a deputy superintendent of police (DSP) and two constables were killed when militants armed with automatic assault weapons had attacked the Sarband police station on the outskirts of Peshawar, the province’s capital.

The latest attack at the Police Lines was the city’s deadliest since the suicide bombing at a Shi’ite Muslim mosque during Friday prayers in March last year, which had killed at least 58 people and injured almost 200 and which was later claimed by the Islamic State.

Funeral prayer of 27 martyrs has 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.

A preliminary investigation report on the suicide attack has been submitted to the prime minister.

The report said evidence collected from the scene confirmed that the explosion in the police line was a suicide attack. Further investigation is underway on the CCTV footage of Police Line gate and family quarters, it added.

The roof collapsed because the explosion damaged the pillars of the mosque, according to the initial investigation.

A high-level committee has also been set up to probe any security lapse, read the report.

Following the deadly blast at Peshawar Police Line, security guidelines have also been changed for Civil Secretariat.

Department of Administrative Affairs Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has issued a declaration regarding the new guidelines.

Vehicles entering Civil Secretariat will go through a thorough security check which include inspection of car’s bonnet and trunk.

Following the suicide bombing in Peshawar, a high alert was also declared in the federal capital.

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