Peshawar, at least 58 dead and 200 wounded in Isis attack on Shia mosque
by Shafique Khokhar

The Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack. A suicide bomber fired into the crowd, then detonated his explosive vest. Some of the wounded are in serious condition. Unanimous political condemnation, Pakistani Taliban distance themselves. Christians pray for the victims and for those fighting for their lives in hospitals. 

Peshawar (AsiaNews) - The toll of victims of the bloody terrorist attack launched yesterday against a Shiite mosque in Peshawar, capital of the province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, in the northwest of the country, has risen to 58, but the number is destined to increase in the coming days. Hospital sources report at least 200 wounded, some of them in serious condition, victims of one of the bloodiest attacks in recent years launched at the end of Friday prayer and claimed shortly afterwards by the Islamic State (IS, formerly Isis). 

Eyewitnesses report that a gunman dressed in black arrived in the vicinity of the mosque around 1 p.m. on a motorbike and opened fire after being stopped by police. The gunman then headed towards a hall, shooting at a guard and detonating his explosive vest. "The gunman entered the mosque and hit the worshippers, then blew himself up," police officer Haroon Rasheed told Reuters.

The attack is one of the deadliest in recent years against the Shia minority in Pakistan, which has long been the target of attacks by Sunni militias including Isis and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Taliban (TTP). In a statement, the Pakistani Taliban distanced themselves from the attack, which was later claimed by the men of the Islamic Caliphate. Sardar Hussain, who lost three relatives in the blast, said the mosque in the Qissa Khwani bazaar was the only place of worship for the Shia community in the old city.

National politics unanimously condemned the attack, from Prime Minister Imran Khan to opposition leaders in parliament. Meanwhile, the city's residents have raised calls for security and a greater police presence. The Chief Minister of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province is calling for more medical and rescue teams to be sent to treat all those injured.

Two days before the attack on the Shiite mosque, a nurse involved in the anti-polio vaccination campaign was killed by an unidentified assailant in the Daudzai area of Peshawar district while returning home. In the past, many health workers and police officers involved in vaccination campaigns have been targeted and attacked by the Taliban and jihadists.

Pastor Javed Jamshed of the Phildifia Pentecostal Church, in Peshawar, condemned the brutal attack against "innocent believers" and asked the authorities to "take immediate action against all those involved". He then assured "the prayers" of the Christian community for "all the victims" and for those "struggling for life in hospitals. It is up to the government," he concluded, "to provide security for all the faithful".