Dozens of people have been killed in an alleged attack on a mosque in Pakistan. According to the authorities, there are at least 44 dead and more than 150 injured. Several of them were taken to clinics in critical condition, it said. Many people were suspected to still be under the rubble of the building. Hospitals called for blood donations.
The explosion happened during midday prayers in the major city of Peshawar, in the north-west of the country. The mosque is in a building that also houses the provincial police headquarters and a counter-terrorism department, Peshawar police chief Ijaz Khan said. “Many police officers are buried under the rubble,” said Khan. According to him, between 300 and 400 police officers usually take part in the prayers in the mosque. The police headquarters is considered one of the most secured places in the city.
A journalist from the AFP news agency reports on emergency services carrying the dead into an ambulance. Accordingly, the roof and walls of the mosque have partially collapsed. According to the police, many believers are still trapped in the building. Heavy machinery and firefighters are used to search for survivors in the rubble.
According to the police, the explosion occurred in the second row of believers. Bomb experts are now examining the assumption that it could have been a suicide attack.
Are the Taliban behind the attack?
Meanwhile, Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander of the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter, according to the AP news agency.
In March, a suicide bomber from the jihadist militia “Islamic State” (IS) carried out an attack on a mosque belonging to the Shiite minority in Peshawar, killing 64 people. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since 2018.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack during a visit to a local hospital. “Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who have a duty to defend Pakistan,” he said. Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah announced an investigation. The German ambassador to Pakistan, Alfred Grannas, also condemned the attack.
Security forces across the country have been placed on high alert. Checkpoints were strengthened, additional security forces mobilized. In the capital, Islamabad, snipers were stationed on rooftops and along the city’s access roads.
Long history of acts of violence
The Pakistani Taliban, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), have carried out several assassinations in the Muslim-majority country in recent weeks. A police officer was killed in a suicide attack in the capital Islamabad at the end of December. The group had previously canceled a ceasefire negotiated with the government and called for attacks across the country.
In Peshawar, TTP fighters carried out a massacre in 2014: They raided a school looking for children of army personnel and killed almost 150 people, most of whom were schoolchildren. The Pakistani Taliban are a coalition of various Islamist groups in Pakistan. They have ties to the Afghan Taliban but are a separate movement.
kle/AR/cwo/sti (dpa, afp, rtr, ape, epd)