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Death toll in Peshawar blast rises to 88 after suicide bomber targets policemen in mosque 

Coffins of the Pakistani policemen (Photo: IANS)

At least 88 people are reported to have died and 150 injured in the suicide bombing inside a crowded mosque in Pakistan’s Peshawar city. The blast took place inside the police lines during the afternoon prayers.

Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Chief of Army Staff, General Syed Asim Munir arrived in Peshawar-the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province that lies on the border with Afghanistan.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also called the Pakistan Taliban, has claimed responsibility for the suicide attack, which brought down the roof of the mosque, trapping many under the debris. Many of the injured are said to be in a critical condition.

Most of the people killed in the Monday afternoon blast were members of the security forces.

Nearly 120 people are believed to have congregated inside the mosque for prayers. The suicide bomber seems to have been present in the front row and succeeded in killing Imam Sahibzada Noor ul Amin.

News agency ANI reported that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Caretaker Chief Minister Muhammad Azam Khan announced a day of mourning in the province on Tuesday and the national flag will be at half-mast.

Prime minister Sharif also visited the injured people at the Lady Reading Hospital. He was accompanied by the army chief General Asim Munir, Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb, and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Inspector General of Police Moazzam Jah Ansari told media persons that “investigations are underway… don’t know where the attacker came from and how he entered”. He speculated that families reside inside the Police Lines and the attacker might have been living in the area.

Also read: Pakistan faces perfect storm as militants launch multiple attacks in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa border province

The TTP had last year called off its ceasefire with the Pakistani government and carried out a series of attacks on security personnel. It has attacked patrol cars, police stations and other on-duty security officials. Among its many demands, the TTP wants the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan to be open so that the ethnic Pashtoons can cross over without border formalities. It also wants a Afghanistan-like Islamic government to take over governance in Pakistan.

Pakistan’s two provinces Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, both of which border Afghanistan, are in a state of turmoil. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has witnessed increased attacks on the security forces after the regime-change in Afghanistan, while Balochistan is caught in the throes of a war-like situation. The ethnic Baloch have been running a seven-decade long campaign for independence from Pakistan.

Some new reports say that the TTP has even extended its support to the Baloch rebels seeking independence from Pakistan. Flush with modern weapons left behind by the US in Afghanistan in the wake of the collapse of the Ashraf Ghani government, the TTP seems to be all-powerful, challenging Islamabad – once its mentor and ally.

Also read: Pakistan Taliban speaks with forked tongue–extends support to Baloch, Sindhi rebels but also talks peace with Islamabad