59 perish in ghastly Peshawar blast – Pakistan

• Over 150 injured, many in critical condition after ‘suicide bomber’ targets mosque in Police Lines
• CCPO terms it ‘security lapse’; conflicting reports emerge regarding claims of responsibility

PESHAWAR: Broken glass and debris from a collapsed roof littered the site of a deadly bombing after an explosion ripped through a mosque in Peshawar’s Red Zone area, leaving 59 people, mostly police officials, dead and over 150 injured.

The mosque, located at the centre of the Police Lines is surrounded by highly sensitive buildings, including the headquarters of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and the office of the deputy inspector general (Telecommunication).

There was no confirmation about the nature of the attack throughout the day, but in a late night development, Peshawar Capital City Police Officer (CCPO) Mohammad Ijaz Khan told Geo News that initial evidence pointed to it being a suicide attack.

Access to the area, however, was blocked by police and security forces to carry out the rescue operation. At the time of going to press, the operation was still underway and another injured person had just been rescued from under the debris.

A state of emergency was declared in major health facilities across the provincial capital. The bodies and the injured were initially shifted to Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) in police vans. Rescue 1122, however, subsequently took over the operation. Some of the injured persons are said to be in critical condition, while those with minor injuries were discharged from the facility.

While the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) denied responsibility for the attack, sources earlier indicated that it might have been the handiwork of some local faction of the outlawed group.

TTP spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani while disowning the attack in a tweet said, “TTP guidelines strictly prohibit attacks on mosques and public places”.

Earlier, a spokesperson for the TTP’s Mohmand chapter had claimed responsibility for the attack and termed it revenge for the killing of Khalid Omar Khorasani in Afghanistan last year.

‘Area frequented by hundreds’

With the central prison at its back and the civil secretariat right opposite the Police Lines, the area is heavily guarded but is frequented by hundreds of people daily.

The Peshawar police chief said it was possible the attacker arrived in Police Lines in an official vehicle or was already present in the area, Geo News reported.

Since the mosque is located near the family quarters built for police personnel, officials stated that the possibility of a “suicide bomber’s entry from the family quarters into the Police Lines could not be ruled out”.

“There is a possibility but this is a premature assertion,” they added.

Meanwhile, a police official said a record of people visiting the Police Lines is always maintained.

He added that authorities were collecting details of all those who entered the Police Lines at least an hour before the blast.

According to the CCPO, Police Lines house the offices of around eight security agencies, including the SSU and CTD, and more than 2,000 policemen move around the area each day.

“If such an incident is taking place inside the Police Lines then this might be a security lapse but we will have a clear stance once the incident is investigated,” CCPO Khan informed media persons earlier in the day.

At least 300 people were present inside the mosque when the blast took place, the city police chief said, adding that the impact of the explosion also caused the roof to collapse.

“There is a smell of explosives but we will share more details when the spot becomes accessible, since the roof has collapsed and jawans (personnel) are trapped under the debris,” Mr Khan added.

Former KP lawmaker Inayatullah, who was present inside the Police Lines, stated that the compound was heavily guarded and wondered about the possibility of such an attack in spite of security measures.

“Initially, I thought it was caused by a transformer [explosion] but later I saw the victims being shifted in police vans. This is a heavily guarded place and you have to cross several check posts [to get here],” he told Dawn.

The explosion also prompted a visit by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff Asim Munir to the provincial capital.

PM Sharif visited the Lady Reading Hospital to inquire after the condition of the wounded.

Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb stated that the prime minister had summoned an emergency meeting to discuss the law and order situation in the wake of the massive blast.

“The prime minister has reached Peshawar. An emergency meeting has been called on the unfortunate attack and the relevant officials have been asked to attend [the meeting],” Ms Aurangzeb said in a tweet.

She added that a preliminary investigation report into the attack would be presented to the prime minister at the meeting.

During his visit, KP Governor Haji Ghulam Ali strongly condemned the attack and appealed to those with O-negative blood group to donate blood at LRH since around 150 [initially] were injured and shifted to the hospital.

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2023

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