Suicide bombing at Pakistani Mosque kills at least 44

Police and hospital officials said a powerful suicide bombing on Monday ripped through a police-frequented mosque in a heavily guarded area of ​​Peshawar, killing at least a few people. 59 people and injured nearly 160 people.

The attack broke a period of relative calm in Peshawar, the capital of the restive Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in northwestern Pakistan. The northwest has been the site of a number of attacks on police and military targets in recent months, especially in areas along the border with Afghanistan, and the Pakistani Taliban have claimed responsibility. about these attacks.

But on Monday, the group denied any involvement in the attack.

A spokesman said in a statement that Taliban guidelines “prohibit” attacks on mosques and other holy sites, as well as on funeral. However, earlier, some of the group’s junior commanders stated on Twitter that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the death of a Taliban leader. who was killed in a bombing in August in Afghanistan.

No other group has come forward to claim responsibility.

Shabbir Afridi, 40, a government employee who was standing near the mosque at the time of the attack, said: “It was a deafening explosion and I fell to the ground. “When I ran towards the mosque, I saw dust and bodies everywhere.”

The mosque was nearly full, with more than 300 worshipers filling the lines when the explosion struck in Police Lines, a heavily guarded neighborhood that is home to many important government and military buildings. An office of the counterterrorism department is nearby, and officials say they are investigating how the suicide bomber managed to get past several security checkpoints to reach the mosque.

The roof collapsed due to the impact, trapping people under the rubble.

“Most people are still trapped under the rubble. We fear that the number of casualties could rise,” said Akbar Khan, an official with the Edhi Foundation, a charity that runs the rescue service.

At least 157 people were injured, many of them rushed to nearby Lady Reading Hospital, a state-run medical facility where the chaos took place, according to hospital officials. Doctors are struggling to move many of the injured to the operating room while relatives gather at hospitals, frantically searching for information about their loved ones.

According to hospital officials, the hospital was put on alert, many paramedics were called in and people were asked to donate blood for the injured.

The capital, Islamabad, is on high alert, with snipers stationed at key government buildings and checkpoints tightened on roads entering the city.

In the 1980s, Peshawar became one of the main bases for local and international fighters in the struggle against the Soviet-backed Afghan government across the border. The city also saw a large influx of Afghan refugees.

The city has been threatened by terrorism for decades, with a series of attacks targeting local government buildings and shopping areas. This is also the site of the most shocking terrorist event in the country in December 2014, when Taliban rebels attack army-run public school and killed 147 students and teachers. That attack sent shockwaves across the country and turned many in the public against the militants.

The last terrorist attack on Peshawar was also a suicide bomb targeted a mosque in March 2022 and killed more than 60 people. Regional branch of the Islamic State, Islamic State of Khorasan, or ISIS-Ktook responsibility.

“Much of KP province is in a state of war,” Khawaja Muhammad Asif, the country’s defense minister, told GEO TV, a local television news network. He said the security situation in the province had deteriorated significantly after the Taliban took over neighboring Afghanistan in 2021.

The Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan Taliban are separate entities, although they draw strength from some of the same beliefs and ideologies. Some of the top Taliban commanders in Pakistan have found safe haven in neighboring Afghanistan in recent years.

A peace agreement between the Pakistani Taliban and the Pakistani government broke down last year, and the rise of the Pakistani Taliban has strained relations between Pakistan and Afghanistan. Peace negotiations in 2021 Initiated by the prime minister at the time, Imran Khan, his government allowed many fighters to return from Afghanistan and resettle in the country if they committed to lay down their arms.

Mr Khan was ousted from the government last year but has worked hard to return to power. His critics argue that the peace talks only allow the fighters to regroup and consolidate power.

Human rights groups in Pakistan called on the government to take action against extremist groups.

“If the state soon heeded warnings from civil society about the resurgence of extremist groups in the province, this escalation could be avoided,” said the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, a human rights group. said in a statement.

Police have been the main target of recent attacks across Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. Police statistics show that 118 employees were killed in rebel attacks in 2022 in the province.

“We, the police, are soft targets and nobody in Islamabad cares about us,” said Muhammad, a policeman at a checkpoint on the outskirts of Peshawar. He asked to be identified only by his name out of concern for his safety.

“Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those performing their duty to protect Pakistan,” Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said in a statement.

The recent surge in violence comes as Mr Sharif is struggling to revive Pakistan’s ailing economy. Pakistan’s currency fell to its lowest against the dollar last week, and the government was forced to sharply raise fuel prices on Sunday to secure an International Monetary Fund bailout.

The IMF has been pressuring the Pakistani government to cut government subsidies and make other changes to the structure of the economy.

“This is a particular challenge for the country, as terrorist violence increases at a time when the economy is on the brink and politics is polarized,” said Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the United States. deep”. “Pakistan’s law enforcement agencies need to step up their efforts to prevent an increase in terrorist activity since the Taliban returned to power in neighboring Afghanistan.”

Zia ur-Rehman Reporting contributions from Karachi, Pakistan.


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