A suicide blast inside a Shia mosque shook Peshawar’s Kocha Risaldar area on Friday, with officials saying that at least 56 people were killed and 194 were injured, Pakistani daily Dawn reported. Mohammad Asim, a spokesperson for Lady Reading Hospital (LRH), confirmed the casualties, adding that some of the injured were in critical condition.
Officials, who termed the incident a suicide attack, initially said that two attackers were involved. However, CCTV footage released later in the day showed a lone attacker clad in a black shalwar kameez reaching the mosque in the city’s Qissa Khwani Bazaar on foot and brandishing a pistol.
He opened fired on police personnel deployed outside the main entrance for security before running inside. The attacker also opened fire on a man who tried to stop him and managed to enter the mosque, where worshippers had gathered for Friday prayers, after which an explosion took place.
Talking to the media, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari said two police officials were deputed at the mosque for security. He said that one constable was killed while another police official was in critical condition. The senior police officer said that around five to six kg of explosive material was used, adding that there were no prior reports about the attack.
According to Geo News, an eyewitness identified a person as dressed in black as the suicide bomber, saying he entered the mosque, shot and killed the security guard first and then fired five to six bullets.
“After that, he quickly entered the [mosque’s] main hall and blew himself up in front of the pulpit. Following this, there were bodies and injured people lying everywhere. The hall was filled with people; they were on the bottom and top floors; the incident took place at 12:55pm,” the eyewitness told Geo News.
A retired army officer Sher Ali who had been inside the mosque at the time of the explosion was injured by flying shrapnel. He made an impassioned plea to the Pakistani government for better protection of the country’s minority Shia Muslims.
“What is our sin? What have we done? Aren’t we citizens of this country?” he told Al Jazeera.
In recent months, Pakistan has experienced an increase in violence. Dozens of military personnel have been killed in scores of attacks on army outposts in the restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The last month saw many terror attacks in Pakistan, primarily from the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
Pakistani Interior Minister Sheikh Rashid was quick to point towards the “external” forces. “External forces are actively trying to destabilise Pakistan”, he told the media. However, Islamic State’s (IS aka ISIS) regional unit, Islamic State Khorasan, or ISIS-K, has claimed responsibility for the blast- they said the explosion was performed by an Afghan suicide bomber.
These blasts have taken place when the Australia cricket team is in the country after 24 years. Last year, New Zealand pulled out its men’s team hours before the first One-day International, with the New Zealand Cricket (NZC) CEO David White saying that there was a “specific and credible threat” to the security of the players.
Interestingly, these blasts have taken place when the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – global anti-money laundering watchdog is going to decide on Friday on whether Pakistan would go down in “black list or stay on its “grey list” owing to non-compliance in the review of money laundering and funding terrorist activities.
(With IANS inputs)