West News Wire: A medical official reports that 100 people have died as a result of a suicide bombing in a mosque in Peshawar, a city in northwest Pakistan, as the South Asian nation deals with an intensifying threat to its security from armed organizations.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesman at the biggest hospital in the city, said in a statement on Tuesday that “100 bodies have been taken to Lady Reading Hospital so far.”
He claimed that police personnel made up the great bulk of the victims of Monday’s explosion.
More than 225 people were hurt in the explosion, according to Kashif Aftab Abbasi, senior superintendent of police operations in Peshawar.
The roof of the mosque, which was located inside a government security compound, collapsed in the bombing, and rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to recover many of the bodies, authorities said.
“There has been a ceremonial send-off to those policemen who lost their lives, also funerals taking place across the province, because these policemen came from several districts, so there is mourning across the province,” it added.
The attack is the deadliest in Peshawar in a decade and was carried out during a surge in violence against the police.
Questions are being asked over how an attacker wearing a suicide vest was able to access the heavily fortified area, which includes the headquarters of the provincial police force and a counterterrorism department.
The bombing followed “credible intelligence reports” on January 21 that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) planned a wave of attacks in Peshawar and the wider Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Shortly after the explosion, Omar Mukaram Khorasani head of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, a TTP splinter group and a member of the TTP’s leadership council said his group committed the attack in retaliation for the killing last year of the Jamaat-ul-Ahrar’s former leader Omar Khalid Khorasani in Afghanistan, according to the Long War Journal and the South Asia Media Research Institute.
Khorasani “took responsibility, saying this was a revenge attack for the killing of his brother in Afghanistan, which he blamed on the Pakistani security forces”, it added. “This is a splinter group, and they joined the mainstream TTP back in 2020, so definitely a group within the TTP.”
Nevertheless, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khorasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying it was not its policy to target mosques, seminaries and other religious sites. He added that those taking part in such acts could face punitive action by the TTP, but he did not address Khorasani’s claims.
Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Governor Ghulam Ali said an investigation was under way to determine “how the terrorist entered the mosque” in the provincial capital.
“Yes, it was a security lapse,” he said.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif promised to take “stern action” against those behind the attack as he visited a hospital in Peshawar on Monday.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is no less than an attack on Pakistan,” he tweeted. He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, saying their pain “cannot be described in words”.
Pakistan has seen a surge in attacks since November when the TTP ended a ceasefire with the government.
In early January, the TTP said one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the military’s spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday that the gunman in that attack was traced and killed in a shootout in northwestern Pakistan near the Afghan border.
Despite being different organizations, the TTP and the Afghan Taliban are close allies.
A TTP unit attacked an army-run school in Peshawar in 2014, killing 154 people, mostly children, as part of the group’s 15-year rebellion against the Pakistani government.
According to UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres described the most recent explosion as “especially heinous” because it targeted a house of worship.
As the attacker was short on money, Pakistan’s economy is still in dire straits. In order to avoid default, it has asked the IMF for an installment of $1.1 billion as part of its $6 billion bailout package. However, recent months have seen a stalemate in the IMF negotiations.