Death toll rises to 100 in attack on police at Pakistan mosque

Mostly police officers

REUTERS/FAYAZ AZIZ  -   A team searches for survivors under a collapsed roof after a suicide blast at a mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, 30 January 2023

Pakistani authorities on Tuesday raised to 100 the number of dead and more than 150 wounded, mostly police officers, after the suicide bombing of a mosque in northwest Pakistan on Monday, one of the worst attacks on security forces in the country. 

"The death toll in the blast has reached 100," Asim Khan, spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital in the city of Peshawar, where the attack took place, told EFE, while 50 of the more than 150 injured are still being treated at the hospital, some of them in critical condition. 

The number of casualties has been rising in recent hours as clean-up and rescue operations at the site of the attack continue. After more than 20 hours of work, forces continue to manually remove debris with suspicions that there could be more bodies under the ruins. 

The attack took place around midday at a mosque in the Police Lines area, a residential and training centre for police officers, which explains the high number of casualties within the force. More than 300 worshippers were in the compound offering the usual afternoon prayers when the suicide bomber detonated the explosives, blowing the roof off the mosque. 

"We cannot use heavy machinery because we have to consider the sanctity of any martyrs or injured who may be under the rubble," Peshawar rescue services spokesman Bilal Faizi told EFE. 

Security forces held funeral services yesterday for 27 of the officers killed in the attack, who were given an honourable send-off by Peshawar police in coffins draped with the Pakistani flag and wreaths of flowers.

AFP/ABDUL MAJEED - Explosion at mosque inside police headquarters in Pakistan on 30 January

Although a message on a Twitter account associated with Pakistani Taliban commander Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack, the veracity of this claim could not be independently corroborated. 

Furthermore, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the main Pakistani Taliban group, categorically denied its involvement in the attack on a holy place, an action that would be against the terrorist group's rules. 

"With regard to the Peshawar incident, we deem it necessary to clarify that Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan has nothing to do with this incident," the fundamentalist group's spokesman Muhammed Khurasanirta said in a statement. 

According to the spokesman, any action in mosques, madrasas or Quranic schools, funerals and other holy places is a punishable offence. 

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff General Asim Munir visited Peshawar after the attack to visit the injured and to review on the ground the security situation in the region which has seen a dramatic increase in attacks over the past year. 

"The scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by the deep sense of grief," the Prime Minister said on Twitter after his visit. 

"There is no doubt in my mind that terrorism is our main national security challenge," he added.

AP/MUHAMMAD SAJJA - A suicide bomber struck inside a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar on Monday, killing several people and wounding dozens of worshippers

Terrorist and insurgent attacks have increased in recent months in Pakistan after several years of relative calm, largely due to the resurgence of the TTP. 

The jihadist group Islamic State (IS) has also carried out attacks in Pakistan in the past, with one of the worst in 2018 targeting a rally in Balochistan, killing 128 people and injuring 122. 

Attacks began to decline in 2014 after a crackdown by Pakistani authorities, but signs of a resurgence are becoming clearer as relations worsen between Pakistan and an Afghanistan under the interim government of the Taliban, who seized power in August 2021.