PESHAWAR -- A suicide bomber killed at least 37 people and wounded 150 others, mostly police officers, in an attack at a mosque inside a highly sensitive Pakistani police headquarters on Monday (January 30), prompting the government to put the country on high alert.
The attack happened during afternoon worship at the Peshawar Police Lines mosque.
A frantic rescue mission was under way at the mosque, which had an entire wall and some of its roof blown out by the force of the blast.
The main hall of the mosque had collapsed but the rest of the building was still intact, Peshawar Capital City Police Officer Muhammad Ijaz Khan told reporters.
"Many policemen are buried under the rubble," said Khan, who estimated between 300 and 400 officers usually attended prayers at the mosque.
"Efforts are being made to get them out safely," he said.
Bloodied survivors emerged limping from the wreckage, while bodies were ferried away in ambulances as the rescue operation continued.
"It's an emergency situation," Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital in Peshawar, told AFP.
The police headquarters in Peshawar is in one of the most tightly controlled areas of the city, housing intelligence and counter-terrorism bureaus, and is next door to the regional secretariat.
Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander for the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter.
Suicide bombers standing in the first row behind the imam detonated explosive vests, eyewitnesses told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
History of violence
The country was put on high alert after the blast, with checkpoints ramped up and extra security forces deployed, while in the capital of Islamabad snipers were deployed on buildings and at city entrance points.
"Terrorists want to create fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan," said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in a statement.
"Those fighting against Pakistan will be wiped out from the face of [the] earth."
Pakistan's rugged northwestern region has long been a hive of militant activity.
The biggest threat comes from a resurgent TTP, which has sharply increased low casualty attacks on police and security forces.
Since August 2021, Pakistan has witnessed a 50% surge in militant attacks, focused in the western border provinces, according to the Pak Institute for Peace Studies.
Meanwhile, the regional chapter of the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" last March claimed an attack on a minority Shia mosque in Peshawar that killed 64, Pakistan's deadliest terror attack since 2018.