PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 30, 2023 (BSS/AFP) - Police officers were among at
least 47 killed and 150 wounded in a blast at a mosque inside a highly
sensitive Pakistan police headquarters on Monday, prompting the government to
put the country on high alert.
The attack happened during afternoon worship in the provincial capital of
Peshawar, close to former tribal areas along the Afghan border where militancy
has been steadily rising.
A frantic rescue mission was underway at the mosque, which had an entire
wall and some of its roof blown out by the force of the blast.
"Many policemen are buried under the rubble," said Peshawar police chief
Muhammad Ijaz Khan, who estimated between 300 and 400 officers usually attended
prayers at the mosque.
"Efforts are being made to get them out safely," he added.
Bloodied survivors emerged limping from the wreckage, while bodies were
ferried away in ambulances as the rescue operation continued.
"It's an emergency situation," Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for the main
hospital in Peshawar, told AFP, adding that at least 47 had been killed and 150
As darkness fell, at least four men were still trapped in the wreckage,
visible through cracks in the concrete, alongside bodies yet to be recovered.
"We have given them oxygen so that they don't have problems in breathing,"
said Bilal Ahmad Faizi, a spokesperson for the rescue organisation 1122.
- 'Black smoke rising' -
The police headquarters in Peshawar is in one of the most tightly
controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism
bureaus, and is next door to the regional secretariat.
Provinces around the country announced they were on high alert after the
blast, with checkpoints ramped up and extra security forces deployed, while in
the capital Islamabad snipers were deployed on buildings and at city entrance
"Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of
defending Pakistan," said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement.
"Those fighting against Pakistan will be wiped out from the face of earth."
Officers said the blast came from the second row of worshippers, with bomb
disposal teams probing the possibility of a suicide attack.
Shahid Ali, a policeman who survived, said the explosion took place seconds
after the imam started prayers.
"I saw black smoke rising to the sky. I ran out to save my life," the
47-year-old told AFP.
"The screams of the people are still echoing in my mind," he added. "People
were screaming for help."
The drastic security breach came on the day United Arab Emirates (UAE)
President Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan had been due to visit Islamabad, although
the trip was cancelled at the last minute due to bad weather.
Pakistan is also preparing to host an International Monetary Fund (IMF)
delegation on Tuesday as it works towards unlocking a vital bailout loan to
prevent a looming default.
- History of violence –
The security situation in Pakistan -- once plagued by bombings until a
major military crackdown that began in 2014 largely restored order -- has
deteriorated since the return of the Afghan Taliban in Kabul.
Islamabad has accused the new rulers of failing to secure their mountainous
border, allowing militants to travel back and forth without being detected.
The biggest threat comes from a resurgent Pakistani Taliban, a separate
movement from the Afghan Taliban but with a similar ideology, which has sharply
increased low casualty attacks on police and security forces.
Meanwhile, the regional chapter of the Islamic State -- whose numbers were
bolstered by prison breaks in Afghanistan in 2021 -- claimed an attack on a
minority Shiite mosque in Peshawar that killed 64, Pakistan's deadliest terror
attack since 2018.
Detectives said the bomber was an Afghan exile who had returned home to
train for the attack.
In the south of the country, authorities say the porous border with
Afghanistan has helped aid a separatist movement in Balochistan.