More than 30 people have been killed and about 150 others wounded in an explosion targeting police at a mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar, according to officials.
Muhammed Asim, Lady Reading Hospital spokesperson in Peshawar, told Al Jazeera at least 32 people were killed on Monday and more than 70 injured people were brought in for treatment. A Peshawar police official told Al Jazeera about 150 people were injured in total.
The mosque is located within a heavily fortified compound that also houses the provincial police force’s headquarters and a counterterrorism division.
Authorities stated that a portion of the building had collapsed and that many people were believed to be trapped beneath the rubble.
Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan said in a televised statement that the main hall of the mosque had a capacity of nearly 300 people and was “nearly full” at the time of the explosion.
“We cannot confirm there was a suicide attacker at this time,” he said, adding that more investigations were needed. “However, there is the possibility of a suicide bomber.”
No one claimed responsibility for the bombing right away.
At least 17 people have reportedly been killed and dozens injured after a bomb blast at a busy mosque in Pakistan's Peshawar, say local officials ⤵️
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 30, 2023
The mosque is located within Peshawar’s Police Lines, which is part of the city’s red zone, which also includes the Chief Minister House, Governor House, and the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa provincial assembly building.
According to Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Islamabad, new information suggests that the attack was carried out by a suicide bomber.
“The [bomber] was reportedly sitting in the front row of congregational prayers inside the mosque,” he continued.
Shahid Ali, a police officer who survived the attack, said the explosion happened seconds after the prayers began.
“I noticed black smoke rising into the sky. “I ran out to save my life,” the 47-year-old said to AFP.
“The people’s screams are still echoing in my mind,” he added. “People were yelling for assistance.”
In a statement, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the bombing and directed authorities to provide the best medical care possible to the victims. He vowed “stern action” against those responsible for the attack.
Former Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan condemned the attack on Twitter.
“Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in Peshawar police lines mosque during prayers,” he tweeted.
“It is critical that we improve our intelligence gathering and equip our police forces properly to combat the growing threat of terrorism.”
Peshawar, the capital of the bordering Afghan province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, has been the target of numerous attacks.
A suicide bomber attacked a mosque there last March, killing 64 people in Pakistan’s deadliest terror attack since 2018. The bombing was claimed by the Islamic State in Khorasan Province, ISKP (ISIS-K).
Several attacks on law enforcement officials have occurred in Pakistan over the last year, particularly in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province and the southern province of Balochistan.
Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which has been fighting the Pakistani state for more than a decade, unilaterally ended a ceasefire agreement in November of last year.
In 2022 alone, Pakistan’s monitoring agencies recorded more than 150 attacks across the country by the TTP, which is ideologically aligned with the Afghan Taliban, killing dozens of people.
Authorities fear that the Taliban’s return to power in Afghanistan has emboldened the TTP and led to its resurgence.
The group demands that their hardline interpretation of Islamic law be imposed, that its members who have been arrested by the government be released, and that the merger of Pakistan’s tribal areas with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province be reversed.