100 confirmed dead in marathon search of rubble

February 1, 2023 6:33 am

Men crowd around the coffin of Irfan Ullah, a police officer killed in the explosion. [Source: BBC News]

The death toll has risen to 100 people after a mosque suicide bombing which targeted policemen in the city of Peshawar in Pakistan.

The mosque is within a high-security zone and an investigation is underway into how the bomber got in.

The attack, one of Pakistan’s bloodiest in years, has left scores more injured.

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A Pakistani Taliban claim to have carried out the bombing was later denied by the militant group, which blamed it on a splinter faction.

In the past, the Pakistani Taliban have refrained from claiming some attacks on mosques, schools or markets because they say they are at war with security forces and not the Pakistani people, but many doubt such denials.

On Tuesday, rescuers scrambled to retrieve worshippers buried in the rubble, pulling out nine people alive but recovering more of the dead. No one remained trapped, local officials said.

The BBC saw ambulances racing in and out of the compound every few minutes.

More than 50 remain wounded, some of them critical.

Meanwhile, funerals have been carried out for more than 20 police officers, their coffins draped with the Pakistan flag. Most of the dead were members of the security forces.

Hundreds packed the funeral of Irfan Ullah, a police inspector killed in the explosion. Only a few days before, he had survived another attack – an ambush where some of his colleagues died.

Armed security guarded the prayers. Some attending cried quietly.

Mr Ullah left behind a wife and five children. At the graveside, his brother Muhammed Zahid described the family’s pain.

Between 300 and 400 police officers had been in the area at the time, Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan earlier told local media.

The mosque is in one of the most heavily controlled areas of the city, which includes police headquarters and intelligence and counter-terrorism offices. On Tuesday, local media lined the road outside the gates – the closest that security would allow.

Mr Sharif said those behind the attack had “nothing to do with Islam”. He added: “The entire nation is standing united against the menace of terrorism.”

The Pakistan Taliban ended a ceasefire in November, and violence has been on the rise in the country since. It is separate to the Afghan Taliban but shares the same hard-line Islamist ideology.

Militant activity has risen in Pakistan since the Taliban agreed on a peace deal with the US and then seized power in Afghanistan in 2021.

There have been a number of attacks on Pakistani police and security personnel since the truce was abandoned. In December the Pakistani Taliban targeted a police station – like Peshawar, in the north-west, bordering Afghanistan – which officials said had led to the deaths of 33 militants.

Monday’s mosque blast took place around 13:30 (08:30 GMT) during afternoon prayers.

An entire wall of the building collapsed, and the mosque was covered in bricks and debris as people clambered over the rubble to escape.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres condemned the attack, with his spokeswoman saying: “It is particularly abhorrent that such an attack occurred at a place of worship.”

The attack on the mosque took place at the start of a key week for Pakistani diplomacy.

On Monday, the president of the United Arab Emirates, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, was due to visit Islamabad – although the trip was cancelled at the last minute because of bad weather.

On Tuesday, an International Monetary Fund delegation is meant to visit Pakistan as part of the process to unlock a bailout loan to prevent the country from defaulting.

Last March, Peshawar was the target of another bombing, which killed dozens in a Shia Muslim mosque in the majority Sunni Muslim country.

In the capital Islamabad, police issued a high alert and said security at all entry and exit points to the city had been increased.