Suicide bomber kills 59, injures over 150

On Monday, a suicide bomber struck a crowded mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan, causing the roof to collapse and killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 150 others.

The majority of the casualties were police officers. It is unclear how the bomber managed to enter the walled compound, which houses the police headquarters in northwest Pakistan’s Peshawar and is itself located in a high-security zone.

In a tweet, Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Hours later, TTP spokesperson Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, stating that it was not the group’s policy to target mosques, seminaries, and religious buildings, adding that any persons taking part in such acts would be subject to punitive action. In his statement, he did not explain why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is no less than an attack on Pakistan,” said Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who visited the wounded in Peshawar and vowed to take “stern action” against those responsible for the bombing. The president conveyed his condolences to the families of the victims, stating that their pain ”cannot be described in words.”

In Pakistan, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, there has been an increase in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their cease-fire with the government.

The Pakistani Taliban claimed earlier this month that one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counterterrorism wing of the country’s military-based spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. The gunman was traced and killed in a shootout near the Afghan border in the northwest on Monday, according to security officials.

The TTP is a separate organization from the Afghan Taliban, but it is a close ally of the latter. The TTP has waged an insurgency in Pakistan in the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members in government custody, as well as a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which it has long occupied.

The attack on a Sunni mosque inside the police facility on Monday was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

Approximately 300 worshippers were praying in the mosque when the bomber detonated his explosive vest. Zafar Khan, a police officer, reports that many worshippers were injured when the roof collapsed, and rescuers were forced to remove mounds of debris to reach those still trapped.

When the bomb went off in the mosque, Meena Gul said he does not know how he survived without injury. He said he heard cries and screams following the explosion.

An official at the main government hospital in Peshawar estimated that 59 people had been killed, while 157 others had been injured. When the bomber was among the worshippers, he blew himself up, according to a police official.

A number of senior police and government officials attended the funerals of 30 police officers and arrangements are currently being made for the burial of the remainder. Coffins were wrapped in the Pakistani flag and the bodies were later buried by relatives.

Peshawar, the capital of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, has been the scene of many militant attacks in recent years, particularly by the Pakistani Taliban.

In August 2021, the Afghan Taliban seized control of the country following the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO forces.

A truce between the Pakistani government and the TTP ended as the country suffered unprecedented flooding that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes, and at one point submerged more than a third of the country.

In a statement, the Afghan Foreign Ministry said it was “saddened to learn that numerous people lost their lives and many others were injured by an explosion at a mosque in Peshawar” condemning attacks against worshipers as contrary to Islam’s teachings.

Likewise, the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad condemned the attack, as did the U.S. Embassy, adding that “The United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the bombing “particularly abhorrent” for targeting a place of worship, U.N. spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said.

The cash-strapped Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial installment of $1.1 billion from the International Monetary Fund to avoid default. The IMF has been unable to revive the bailout talks in recent months.

In a tweet, former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described the bombing as a “terrorist suicide attack.” One of his tweets read: “My prayers & condolences go to victims families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”

Sharif’s government came to power in April following Khan’s ouster in a no-confidence vote in Parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and a result of a plot backed by the United States. Khan’s claims have been dismissed by Washington and Sharif.