At Least 61 people have died and 150 more were wounded yesterday when a suicide bomber targeted worshippers at a mosque sited within a police compound in north-west Pakistan.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast in Peshawar that caused sections of the building to collapse on to the worshippers below, many of whom were police officers.
Officials are investigating how the bomber was able to infiltrate the mosque, which is sited within a police headquarters that also houses the offices of sensitive intelligence and counter-terrorism units.
The region of Pakistan that borders Afghanistan has seen an increase in bombings since the Afghan Taliban took control of Kabul in August 2021.
However, if yesterday’s attack is the work of Pakistan’s home-grown Taliban it will be their most deadly strike on the state in eight years.
Police officers attempted to dig their colleagues out of the rubble after a wall and sections of the roof collapsed.
Shahid Ali, a policeman who survived, said the explosion happened seconds after the imam had started prayers.
“I saw black smoke rising to the sky. I ran out to save my life,” the 47-year-old told AFP.
“The screams of the people are still echoing in my mind,” he added. “People were screaming for help.”
In the aftermath of the blast, rescuers dug through fallen masonry to find their colleagues.
Peshawar police chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan estimated that between 300 and 400 officers usually attended prayers at the mosque.
He said: “Many policemen are buried under the rubble. Efforts are being made to get them out safely.”
Many of the wounded were listed as critical, suggesting the death toll would rise.
A leader of the Pakistani Taliban said the bombing had been carried out to avenge the killing six months ago of Omar Khalid Khorasani, one of the group’s founders.
The militant group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, has waged an insurgency over the past 15 years seeking to overthrow the government and stricter enforcement of Islamic laws. At the height of the group’s insurgency, Peshawar suffered regular suicide bombings.
Successful operations by the Pakistani army eventually pushed the militants into Afghanistan over the past decade. There they were given a haven by their Afghan allies.
Observers say the victory of the Afghan Taliban over the Kabul government had appeared to embolden the Pakistani militants.
The first 12 months of Taliban rule in Kabul coincided with a 50pc surge in militant attacks inside Pakistan, focused in the western border provinces, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.
Pakistan’s military has unsuccessfully attempted to get the new Afghan Taliban regime to pressure the militants to cease their attacks.
Pakistan was put on high alert after yesterday’s blast, with checkpoints reinforced and extra security forces deployed. In the capital, Islamabad, snipers were positioned on buildings and at city entrance points.
Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister, visited the wounded in hospital and vowed “stern action” against the culprits. He also called on his party workers to donate blood.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable,” Mr Sharif said.
“This is no less than an attack on Pakistan. The nation is overwhelmed by a deep sense of grief.
“I have no doubt terrorism is our foremost national security challenge. Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan.
“Those fighting against Pakistan will be wiped out from the face of the earth.”
(© Telegraph Media Group Ltd 2023)