- Tragic scenes as people search for loved ones
- Attack in fortified area baffles authorities
- Relief continues to clear the rubble of the mosque
PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Jan 31 (Reuters) – Distraught relatives swarmed hospitals in Pakistan’s Peshawar on Tuesday to search for loved ones a day after a suicide bomber ripped through a crowded mosque in a heavily fortified area of the city, killing more than 90 people, mostly police officers.
The attack, in the Police Lines district, follows an outbreak of violence targeting police in this restive northwestern town near the Afghan border. No group has claimed responsibility.
“My son, my child,” cried an elderly woman walking alongside an ambulance carrying coffins, as paramedics dragged injured people to an emergency unit at a hospital.
At least 170 people were injured in the blast, which demolished the top floor of the mosque as hundreds of worshipers performed midday prayers.
Riaz Mahsud, a senior local government official, said the death toll was likely to rise as workers excavated the debris. “We have cut three main beams from the building and efforts are underway to cut the rest,” he told Reuters.
Live video footage showed people rushing to hospitals to identify the dead and treat the injured.
The mosque is the main place of worship in the district, which houses the offices of the police and the counter-terrorism unit.
Authorities say they don’t know how the suicide bomber managed to enter the area, which is protected by a series of checkpoints manned by police and military personnel. Defense Minister Khawaja Asif said the suicide bomber was standing in the front row of the prayer room when he detonated his explosives.
Peshawar sits on the edge of Pashtun tribal lands, a region mired in violence over the past two decades. The most active militant group in the region is the Pakistani Taliban, also referred to as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella group for Sunni and sectarian Islamist factions opposed to the Islamabad government.
The TTP has denied responsibility for Monday’s bombing, although it has intensified its attacks since pulling out of a peace deal with the government last year.
The bombing came a day before an International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission arrived in Islamabad for talks on a stalled $7 billion bailout.
The latest attack was even deadlier than the one claimed by Islamic State militants last March, when they shelled a Shiite mosque, killing at least 58 people.
Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, writing by Asif Shahzad and Shilpa Jamkhandikar; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly, Miral Fahmy and Simon Cameron-Moore
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.