Pakistan: Mosque bombing survivors traumatized but undeterred | News

Peshawar, Pakistan – Naib Rehman is lying on his hospital bed, his leg wrapped in plaster. The 44-year-old recalls that as he got up for afternoon prayers with 300 other worshipers, a massive explosion rocked the mosque in the city of Peshawar in northwestern Pakistan .

At least 100 people, mostly police, were killed and more than 225 injured in Monday’s suicide bombing, the deadliest in a decade as attacks by armed groups escalate.

“I was standing with my friends when the explosion threw us, and just as we were trying to get our bearings, within seconds the whole roof came down,” said Rehman, who works in the telecommunications department. of the police, to Al Jazeera. .

“We were lucky to find a way and crawl out, but my leg was badly injured,” Rehman said. Like most of the injured, he was taken to the town’s main hospital, Lady Reading.

Rescuers clear rubble at the site of the mosque attack [Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]

Rehman said he was determined to continue.

“Even though I lost some of my friends, that won’t deter me,” he said as he lay with seven other patients in a hospital ward. “I’m going back to my job. It is my duty. I will not be afraid of this attack.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack and promised “stern action”. Authorities have announced an investigation into the explosion at a high-security police area.

“The scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable,” Sharif tweeted after his visit to Peshawar. “This is nothing less than an attack on Pakistan.”

A faction of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), also known as the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack, but a TTP spokesman later denied playing a role in the attack. blast.

A months-long ceasefire between the TTP and Pakistan collapsed last year and the group has since intensified its attacks on Pakistani security personnel.

Yashwa Tariq, a 28-year-old police officer, was on duty in Peshawar when he received a call from a friend on Monday afternoon saying his house next to the mosque had been damaged by an explosion.

“My heart just sank,” said Tariq, who rushed home. He described what he found as rubble and utter chaos.

“All my neighbors and friends were trying to remove the debris with their bare hands,” he said. “I managed to find my son who was injured, completely covered in dust and couldn’t open his eyes.”

Interactive about the attacks in Pakistan

Tariq’s wife, sister and grandmother were trapped under the collapsed roof in another room. The constable managed to get his son out and rushed him to Lady Reading Hospital, praying the rest of his family would survive.

His wife, son and sister did, but his maternal grandmother, Rasheeda Bibi, was killed.

“My wife suffered a fracture in both legs,” Tariq told Al Jazeera. “My sister has a gash on her head. My son is suffering from trauma. My grandmother passed away. I have nowhere to return. I no longer have a home. »

Several other houses next to the mosque where police officers live were also damaged.

The impact of the blast was so violent that it brought down the roof of the mosque’s main prayer hall, under which nearly 300 worshipers were about to begin their prayers.

Kashif Aftab Abbasi, chief superintendent of police operations in Peshawar, confirmed to Al Jazeera that initial police investigations revealed the blast was caused by a suicide bomber and the vast majority of fatalities were caused by the collapse. of the roof.

More than 90% of those who died worked for the police.

The Police Lines mosque blast was the first major attack in Peshawar since March, when a Shia mosque was attacked by Islamic State in Khorasan province, killing more than 60 people.

Muhammed Asim, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, said on Monday the situation at the facility was “crushing” as ambulances brought in thousands of dead and injured.

Unlike Rehman, Yasir Khan – a police officer who also lives in Police Lines, a secure part of Peshawar where major government facilities are located – says the incident has shaken his confidence.

“We are aware of attacks on police and security guards,” the 29-year-old told Al Jazeera as he stood near the rubble of the mosque. “We expect attacks on checkpoints. But we could never have imagined that an attack would take place inside our compound. It is so heavily guarded.

Kashif Aftab Abbasi left
Kashif Aftab Abbasi, chief superintendent of police operations, says most of the deaths were caused by the mosque’s roof collapse [Abid Hussain/Al Jazeera]

Deciding to quit his job never crossed his mind, he said. “It is work that feeds us. My father was also in the police. What else am I going to do if not this? My wife asked me to quit my job and return to our village, but I told her duty came first.

Kamran Khan, a government teacher, said when he saw news of the blast on television he rushed to the site of the blast at the Police Lines compound. His brother Irfanullah as well as his cousin Shafiq worked in the police department.

His brother was among those killed while his cousin was admitted to Lady Reading Hospital.

“We are eight siblings, and Irfanullah was third.” Khan said. “He worked as a government teacher like me for a very long time, but he always aspired to wear a uniform.”

Irfanullah, who joined the force in 2010, is survived by five children, two sons and three daughters.

“I used to try to stop him from joining the force,” Khan said. “But now, not only will I encourage his son to follow in his father’s footsteps, but I will also push my own son to join him. I want them to serve the nation and honor the name of Irfanullah.

Abid Hussain is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @abidhussayn.

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