A powerful suicide blast inside a mosque in Peshawar's Police Lines area on Monday killed 32 people while 147 others were injured, local media reported.
According to security officials, the suicide attacker was present in the front row during the prayers when he exploded himself, injuring dozens of faithfuls offering Zuhr prayers, Geo News reported.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has taken responsibility for the attack, the report said. The Peshawar mosque attack is by far the biggest in the serious of attacks that TTP has been conducting targeting the security forces and their installations.
Sahibzada Noor Ul Amin, Imam of the mosque, was killed in the blast, the police said. "The blast took place at around 1:40 p.m. when Zuhr prayers were being offered. At the time of the blast, officers from the police, army and the bomb disposal squad were present inside the mosque," said an eye witness.
"A portion of the building has collapsed and several people, especially those standing in the front row during the prayers, are believed to be under it," the eye witness added.
Pakistan Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah will leave for Peshawar shortly, according to government sources. The attack has been widely condemned by political leaders cutting across political lines.
"Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in Police Lines mosque in Peshawar during prayers. My prayers and condolences go to victims families.
It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism," said former Prime Minister and PTI chief Imran Khan.
The injured have been shifted to the Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar. The hospital has appealed to the citizens to donate blood for the victims. Capital City Police Officer (CCPO), Peshawar, Ejaz Khan told the media that it is too early to say anything as many policemen are still trapped under the rubble.
"We are currently focused on the rescue operation. We cannot say with surety, but there is smell of explosives inside the mosque," said the CCPO. He added that the location has the headquarters of the Peshawar Police, CTD, FRP, Elite Force and telecommunications department, Geo News reported.
"Close to 300-400 policemen usually offer prayers at the time of Zuhr. If a blast has taken place inside Police Lines, it is a security lapse but an investigation into the matter can reveal further," said the CCPO.
An eyewitness told the media that he was going to the mosque when the explosion took place. "It was a powerful explosion. There was smoke everywhere after the blast," said the eyewitness, adding that when he regained consciousness, he saw the roof of the mosque collapsed.
"There were at least 120 people inside the mosque when the incident took place. It was a suicide blast because the bomber was inside the mosque's inner courtyard. The Zuhr prayers had just started when it happened.
There were mostly policemen among the injured," said the eyewitness, Geo News reported.. President of the Civil Secretariat Association of Peshawar, Tassavur Iqbal, who regularly prays at the mosque, said that security in the Police Lines area is always high, and no one can enter without showing their identity and body search.
"This is an unfortunate incident that took place here today. This is a big mosque where 400-500 people can offer prayers at a time. We are hearing that the building collapsed after the blast," said Iqbal.
Journalist Qaiser explained that the Police Lines is located in Peshawar Cantt's most sensitive area, where a large number of law enforcement and FC personnel are present round the clock.
"The offices of KP's Counter Terrorism Department (CTD) and police investigation department are situated there. Usually, 1,000 police personnel are present at the police headquarters," he added.
The journalist said that in order to inside the area, one has to stop at two police check-posts. "The bomber was able to sneak inside after passing through checking three times," said the journalist, Geo News reported.
The Peshawar suicide attack is the second big mosque attack in Peshawar since last year, when a suicide blast at a Shia mosque in Kocha Risaldar area claimed at least 63 lives. After the devastating suicide blast in Peshawar, security across Islamabad has also been put on high alert.