A suicide blast at a mosque inside a Pakistan police headquarters was a targeted revenge attack, a police chief said Tuesday, as rescue efforts ended with the death toll standing at 100.
Between 300 and 400 policemen had gathered for afternoon prayers at the compound’s mosque on Monday in the provincial capital Peshawar when an entire wall and most of the roof were blown out, showering rubble on officers.
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“We are on the frontline taking action against militants and that is why we were targeted,” city police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan told AFP.
“The purpose was to demoralise us as a force.”
On Tuesday evening rescuers finally ended a marathon operation which saw them pry survivors and corpses out of the wreck of the mosque, rushing those who could be saved to hospitals.
Wajahat Ali, a 23-year-old police constable whose feet were broken in the blast, told AFP from hospital that he had “remained trapped under the rubble with a dead body over me for seven hours. I had lost all hope of survival.”
Shahid Ali, another survivor, said the explosion took place seconds after the imam started prayers.
“I saw black smoke rising to the sky. I ran out to save my life,” the 47-year-old police officer told AFP.
Low-level militancy, often targeting security checkpoints, has been steadily rising in the areas near Peshawar that border Afghanistan since the Taliban seized control of Kabul in August 2021.
The assaults are claimed mostly by the Pakistani Taliban, as well as the local chapter of the Islamic State, but mass casualty attacks remain rare.
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The head of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province police force, Moazzam Jah Ansari, told reporters that a suicide bomber had entered the mosque as a guest, carrying 10-12 kilogrammes (about 22-26 pounds) of “explosive material in bits and pieces”.
He added that a militant group that was on-and-off affiliated with the Pakistani Taliban could be behind the attack.