The blast happened during afternoon prayers at the mosque. According to the police, the explosion occurred in the second row of believers. An AFP journalist reported on emergency services carrying the dead into an ambulance. Accordingly, the roof and walls of the mosque had partially collapsed. According to the police, many believers were still trapped under the rubble in the building. Heavy machinery and firefighters searched the rubble for survivors.
"It is an emergency situation," Muhammad Asim Khan, a spokesman for the Peshawar hospital, told AFP. He put the number of dead at 33. The governor of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Ghulam Ali, spoke of 28 dead and 150 injured, most of whom he said were police officers.
Peshawar Police Chief Muhammad Ijaz Khan said: "Many police officers are buried under the rubble." According to him, between 300 and 400 officials usually take part in the prayers in the mosque. "Efforts are now being made to get them to safety," he said.
Peshawar Police Headquarters is one of the most heavily secured places in the city. The building also houses offices of the secret service and anti-terrorist forces.
Security forces across the country have been placed on high alert. Checkpoints were reinforced, additional security forces were mobilized and in the capital, Islamabad, snipers were posted on the roofs and on the access roads to the city. "Terrorists want to spread fear by targeting those defending Pakistan," said Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.
Police officer Shahid Ali, who survived the tragedy, said the explosion happened just seconds after the Imam started the prayer. "I saw black smoke rising and ran for my life," the 47-year-old told the AFP news agency. "I can still hear people screaming, people calling for help."
In March, a suicide bomber from the Islamic State (IS) jihadist militia carried out an attack on a mosque belonging to the Shiite minority in Peshawar, killing 64 people. It was the deadliest attack in Pakistan since 2018.
The Pakistani branch of the radical Islamic Taliban, which operates under the name Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), is also active in the region. The radical Sunni group is not affiliated with the Taliban government in Afghanistan, but the two share common roots. In Peshawar, TTP fighters carried out a massacre in 2014: They raided a school looking for children of army personnel and killed almost 150 people, most of whom were schoolchildren.
The TTP, founded in 2007, regained strength after the Taliban took power in Afghanistan. Last year, she claimed responsibility for several attacks in Pakistan, which were primarily aimed at security forces. A month-long ceasefire between the TTP and the Pakistani government expired in November.