A suicide bomber attacks a heavily guarded Pakistani mosque, killing 59

  • The number of worshipers reached 400 at the time of the explosion
  • Most of the dead were police officers
  • No one has claimed responsibility for the attack

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber blew himself up inside a crowded mosque in a heavily fortified security compound in Pakistan on Monday, killing 59 people in the latest attack by Islamist militants targeting police.

Police said the attacker appeared to have passed through several checkpoints manned by security forces to reach the “Red Zone” compound housing police and counter-terrorism offices in the restive northwestern city of Peshawar.

“It was a suicide bombing,” Peshawar police chief Aijaz Khan told Reuters. He added that many of the 170 injured were in critical condition.

The hospital official, Mohamed Assem, said in a statement that the death toll rose to 59 after several people succumbed to their wounds.

The bombing took place a day before an International Monetary Fund mission was sent to Islamabad to begin talks on opening financing for the economy of the South Asian country, which is suffering from a balance of payments crisis.

Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif condemned the attack.

Officials said the attacker detonated his explosives while hundreds of people lined up for prayers.

“We found traces of explosives,” Khan told reporters, adding that there was clearly a security breach as the bomber infiltrated through the most secure area of ​​the compound.

An investigation was under way to find out how the attacker breached such an elite cordon of security and if there was any insider help.

Khan said the mosque hall was crowded with up to 400 worshipers and that most of the dead were police officers.

No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, the worst in Peshawar since March 2022, when an Islamic State suicide bombing killed at least 58 people in a Shiite mosque during Friday prayers.

Militant Islamist groups including the Islamic State group and the Pakistani Taliban frequently target Peshawar, which lies on the fringes of Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.

“Allah is the greatest”

Defense Minister Khawaja Asif told Geo TV that the bomber was standing in the first row of worshipers.

Mushtaq Khan, the policeman who was shot in the head, told reporters from his hospital bed: “As the prayer hall said ‘Allahu Akbar’, there was a huge bang.”

“We couldn’t figure out what happened because the explosion was deafening. It threw me off the balcony. The walls and ceiling fell on me. Thank God he saved me.”

The explosion led to the fall of the upper floor of the mosque, trapping dozens of worshipers under the rubble. Live television footage showed rescuers cutting across the collapsed deck to make their way through and tend to victims trapped in the wreckage.

“We cannot say how many are still under it,” said the provincial governor, Haji Ghulam Ali.

“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable,” Sharif said. “This is nothing less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed with a deep sense of grief. I have no doubt that terrorism is our number one national security challenge.”

Witnesses described chaos as police and rescue workers rushed the injured to hospitals.

Sharif, who appealed to his party’s employees to donate blood in hospitals, said that anyone who targets Muslims during prayer has nothing to do with Islam.

(Reporting by Gibran Ahmed in Peshawar and Asif Shahzad in Islamabad). Written by Shilpa Jamkhandikar and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Bernadette Baum, Mark Heinrichs, and Grant McCall

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