At least 19 people have been killed and 40 injured today when militants attacked a mosque in Peshawar, according to Pakistani officials.
A firefight broke out with police after at least three gunmen stormed the Shia mosque during prayers, opening fire on worshippers and throwing grenades.
Deputy commissioner Malik Raiz told VICE News: "Three to four attackers entered Imamia Imambargah in Peshawar's Hayatabad area during Friday prayers, attackers opened fire on people and threw two hand grenades before one of them blew himself up. There were two suicide bombers among three to four attackers. One of them blew himself up while others hurled hand grenades. We have recovered a suicide jacket during the search operation."
Main Said, Peshawar's senior police superintendent, told VICE News that the "attackers managed to enter the mosque from an adjacent under-construction building.
"One of the suicide bombers was injured in a shootout with police and later died of injuries… The attackers were wearing police uniforms and this allowed them to enter the mosque without any issues." Said also said that before entering the mosque, the militants set fire to the vehicle they had been traveling in.
K-P Provincial Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said that security forces were conducting a search operation in the area, according to Pakistan's Express Tribune.
The Pakistani Taliban, which is locked in an intensifying struggle with the country's security forces, claimed responsibility for the attack. Spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said it was "revenge" for the hanging of Dr. Usman, a former soldier who carried out an attack on an army headquarters in 2009.
Journalist Zayer Hassan was in Islambad when he heard that a family member had been killed in the attack. He told VICE News that the gunmen apparently entered the mosque dressed like the Pakistani police, before firing indiscriminately at those inside. Conflicting reports have emerged about how many gunmen there were, but Hassan said there may have been as many as six. A senior police officer, Mian Mohammad Saeed, has put the number at three or four.
After one of the attackers blew himself up, the others reportedly fled, sparking a manhunt. Officials said one of the attackers had been arrested and the other shot dead, though it was unclear if any more gunmen might still be at large.
Hassan noted that this marked the third major attack on a Shia mosque in 2015. He added that "Friday in a Muslim country is the time that everyone prays," but said that many of his family members no longer visited a mosque on Fridays because they were too fearful of terrorism. "We know that it's a very dangerous thing to go because any time anyone can attack."
VICE News spoke to eyewitnesses at the scene. Ali Hussain, 55, said that he was late for prayers when he saw five militants wearing paramilitary uniforms entering the mosque. Hussain also said that some of the worshippers attempted to snatch weapons from the attackers. In the confusion, one of the militants blew himself up. "Huge smoke and dust was all around," he said.
Haneef Khan, 23, also said there were five armed men involved in the attack.
Mudashar Ali 33, told VICE News that there were at least three blasts, causing a stampede "which also crushed many old and kids in the mosque." Those inside lay on the floor until eventually, Ali said, local security forces entered the mosque to rescue them.
Fida Khan, who is in charge of the Al-Khidmat rescue service, told VICE News that they had collected 12 bodies, "including two children." Khan added they transported 35 victims to the hospital, but said that the number of injured people was much greater than that.
Shia Muslims are a minority in Pakistan, and have been increasingly targeted by local extremists and terrorist groups. In January, more than 60 people were killed in a mosque attack in the southern Pakistani city of Shikarpur, carried out by a group that has aligned itself with the Islamic State. On January 10 another eight people were killed in an attack in Rawalpindi.
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