Peshawar, Pakistan Naib Rehman lies in his hospital bed with his leg wrapped in a cast. The 44-year-old recalls that as he was standing for afternoon prayer along with 300 other worshippers, a massive explosion rocked the mosque in the northwestern Pakistani city of Peshawar.
At least 100 people, most of them police officers, were dead and more than 225 injured in Monday’s suicide bombing, the deadliest in a decade as attacks by armed groups increase.
“I was standing with my friends when the explosion threw us off, and just as we were trying to get our bearings, within seconds, the whole roof collapsed,” Rehman, who works in the police telecommunications department, told Al Jazeera. .
“We were lucky to find a way and we got out, but my leg was badly injured,” Rehman said. Like most of the wounded, he was taken to the town’s main hospital, Lady Reading.
Rehman said he is determined to continue.
“Even though I lost some of my friends, that won’t stop me,” he said as he lay with seven other patients in a hospital ward. “I will return to my work. This is my duty. I will not be afraid of this attack.”
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif condemned the attack and vowed “severe measures”. Authorities have announced an investigation into the explosion in a high-security police area.
“The magnitude of the human tragedy is unimaginable,” Sharif tweeted after visiting Peshawar. “This is no 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 spokesperson later denied involvement in the blast.
A tenuous 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 that his house next to the mosque had been damaged in an explosion.
“My heart just sank,” said Tariq, who ran home. He described what he found as rubble and total chaos.
“All my neighbors and friends were trying to remove the rubble with their bare hands,” he said. “I managed to find my son who was injured, completely covered in dust and could not open his eyes.”
Tariq’s wife, sister and grandmother were trapped under the collapsed ceiling in another room. The police officer managed to get the son from him and rushed him to Lady Reading Hospital, praying that 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 cut on her head. My son is suffering from trauma. My grandmother has died. I have nowhere to return. I don’t have a home anymore.”
Several other houses next to the mosque where the policemen live were also damaged.
The impact of the blast was so severe that it brought down the roof of the mosque’s main prayer hall, under which some 300 worshipers were about to begin their prayers.
Kashif Aftab Abbasi, a senior superintendent of police operations in Peshawar, confirmed to Al Jazeera that initial police investigations found that the explosion was caused by a suicide bomber and that the vast majority of deaths were due to roof collapse.
More than 90 percent of those who died worked for the police.
The explosion at the Police Lines Mosque was the first major attack in Peshawar since March, when a Shiite mosque was attacked by Islamic State in Khorasan province, killing more than 60 people.
Muhammed Asim, a spokesman for Lady Reading Hospital, said the situation at the facility on Monday was “overwhelming” as ambulances brought in scores of dead and wounded.
Unlike Rehman, Yasir Khan, a police officer who also lives in Police Lines, a safe part of Peshawar home to major government facilities, says the incident has shaken his confidence.
“We are aware of the attacks against the police and security agents,” the 29-year-old told Al Jazeera as he stood near the rubble of the mosque. “We expect attacks at checkpoints. But we could never have imagined an attack taking place inside our compound. It’s so heavily guarded.”
Deciding to quit her job has never occurred to her, she said. “This is the work that feeds us. My father was also in the police. What else am I going to do if it’s not this? My wife asked me to quit work and return to our village, but I told her that her duty comes first.
Kamran Khan, a government teacher, said when he saw the news of the explosion on TV, he rushed to the site of the explosion at the Police Lines compound. His brother Irfanullah and 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 brothers, and Irfanullah was the third.” Khan said. “He worked as a government teacher like me for a long time, but he always aspired to wear a uniform.”
Irfanullah, who joined the police 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, I will not only encourage his son to follow in his father’s footsteps, but also push my own son to join. I want you 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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