At least 19 people killed, 57 others injured in suicide attack.
The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan on Friday claimed responsibility for a suicide-and-gun attack on a Shia imambargah in Peshawar’s Hayatabad district that left at least 19 people dead and over 50 others injured.
“We claim responsibility for the Peshawar suicide attack,” the Pakistani Taliban said in a statement issued to local media. “We carried out the attack to revenge [the execution of] Dr. Usman,” it adds, referring to the militant executed in December for his role in an attack on Pakistan Army Headquarters in Rawalpindi. “This is a series, blood against blood and will continue. The government should wait for more such severe attacks in future.”
Mushtaq Ghani, the provincial information minister, told Newsweek that the death toll had reached 19, with 57 people injured. “Four attackers were involved in the incident,” he said. “The Bomb Disposal Unit has successfully defused the discarded suicide jacket found by police in the mosque.”
Ghani said the attack exposed the brutality of the Taliban. “How can any Muslim target people while they are offering prayers in mosques?”
Shahram Tarakai, the provincial health minister, said an emergency had been declared at all Peshawar hospitals to ensure the victims received urgent care. TV footage showed people running away from the scene, some carrying injured on their shoulders, others limping, as police fired shots and checked people at a barrier. Most of the injured and dead have been shifted to the Hayatabad Medical Complex.
Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Bomb Disposal Unit chief Shafqat Malik said the four attackers had all been suicide bombers. “Three of them detonated their suicide vests, but the fourth one was killed in exchange of fire with Security forces and police commandos,” he said. “The jacket of the fourth bomber was intact and defused by the bomb disposal squad,” he added.
According to Malik, three grenades were also recovered from the body of the fourth terrorist. “One body and six legs [of suicide bombers] have been recovered,” he said.
Mian Saeed, a senior police official, said: “At least one of the attackers detonated a suicide jacket after entering the mosque during Friday prayers, while the others hurled hand grenades at the people praying.” Saeed confirmed that the attackers had been wearing police uniforms. “This allowed them to enter the mosque without any issues,” he added.
Another police official at the site told Newsweek that people had been offering prayers when the militants targeted the Imamia Mosque. “As soon as the explosion occurred, people panicked and a stampede occurred,” he said, adding that the grenades and shots fired by the militants had made it very difficult for people trying to flee the mosque.
“Police have cordoned off the area and are investigating,” said Saeed. “The Bomb Disposal Squad is also trying to determine how many explosives were used,” he added.
Mujahid Khan, the in-charge of Edhi Rescue Services, said they had recovered 15 bodies, including two children, and over 50 injured. “They have been shifted to Hayatabad Medical Complex and Khyber Teaching Hospital,” he added. He said the militants had first set fire to the vehicle they had traveled to the mosque in, which had also worsened the situation as the flames had spread to other cars.
An eyewitness, Faheem Hussain, said the firefight in the mosque had terrified him. “It felt like the attackers were everywhere,” he said.
The attack occurred shortly after Imran Khan, the chief of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, which rules the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had completed a radio show discussing various issues, including security concerns, facing the province.
Akhunzada Muzzafar Hussain, a local leader of the Shia community, said the casualty count will likely rise. “I know at least eight people were killed and 55 others wounded. Various Shia groups have reached the area to assist the government’s rescue operation,” he added. He criticized the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf for failing to protect the Shia community. “It’s shocking that this blast occurred so soon after Imran Khan addressed the province on radio and assured us of plans to end terrorism,” he said. “I urge Imran Khan to please go for practical steps to solve this crisis, as not only Shias but all the people living in this province deserve better security,” he said, adding, “Imran Khan’s words are meaningless if we can’t see any progress.”
Khan has condemned the blast. “Those who attacked Muslims who were bowing their heads to Allah can not even be regarded as humans,” he said. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif also condemned the attack through a statement issued to media. “Terrorists cannot dishearten this nation through these acts,” he said. “The nation is united against terrorism and we will root out it from this region.”