PESHAWAR: Up to 59 people were killed and 157 wounded when an explosion ripped through a mosque inside a compound where the headquarters of the provincial police force are located in Peshawar, the spokesman of the largest health facility in the northwestern city said.
Police said up to 350 worshipers were inside the mosque for afternoon prayers when the bomber detonated his explosives.
"The death tally has reached 59," Muhammad Asim, a spokesman for the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) said in a statement. "About 157 people injured in the blast were brought to LRH."
Commissioner Peshawar Riaz Mehsud said a “big explosion" had completely damaged the mosque’s roof.
"It will be premature to say whether it was a suicide explosion,” he told Arab News. "We haven't yet confirmed how many policemen are dead and wounded but I think 90 percent casualties are of police personnel because most of those offering prayers in the mosque were policemen."
Muhammad Ijaz Khan, the Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), said many people, including policemen, were still trapped under the debris.
“We can’t as of yet determine what caused the explosion but it was a security lapse,” Khan said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing but the Pakistani Taliban group have recently carried out similar attacks, with assaults on the rise since last November when the group called off a ceasefire signed with the government in May.
Ahmad Khan, a police constable who was inside the mosque when the blast occurred, said the roof collapsed after the explosion.
“It was the time for Zuhr (afternoon) prayers,” Khan said. “I was in the second row among worshippers when the blast took place. The roof of the mosque collapsed with many worshippers trapped but I managed to come out with small injuries.”
Soon after the blast, the provincial health department declared a state of emergency at the city’s hospitals.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif urged people, especially followers of his Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ruling party, to donate blood to those injured in the attack.
“Reach Lady Reading Hospital, Peshawar, and contribute to saving precious human lives,” he tweeted.
The prime minister's office later reported that Sharif had flown via helicopter to Peshawar.
"Terrorists are making a sinister attempt to create an atmosphere of fear and terror by attacking the institutions responsible for the defense of Pakistan, which will be thwarted by the strength of the unity of the state and the people," the PM was quoted as saying in a statement from Peshawar.
"Pakistan has made great sacrifices against terrorism, we will not let the sacrifices of martyrs go in vain," the PM added, promising that the capacity and efficiency of anti-terrorist institutions and police would be enhanced.