PESHAWAR - Peshawar bled once again as 20 worshippers were killed and 55 others injured when a group of heavily-armed militants stormed an imambargah in a posh locality of the city during Friday prayers.

Eyewitness said as many as six armed persons dressed in FC uniforms hurled hand grenades and then entered Imamia Masjid in Hayatabad area through an alternate route just when the Friday prayer was being offered.

The attackers, four of them wearing suicide vests and all of them wielding Kalashnikovs, opened indiscriminate fire on worshippers. An eyewitness said one of the assailants was overpowered by the crowed but he detonated his vest causing many casualties.

Two groups claimed responsibility for the attack. Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TPP) said they carried out the assault to avenge the hanging of one of their high-profile associates. A representative of Lashkar-e-Islam claimed the assault by saying it was a revenge for military operation in Khyber Agency.

Following the deadly attack, body parts of the victims were found yards away from the mosque premises while many worshipers lost their limbs in the high intensity suicide vest explosion. The injured were shifted to Hayatabad Medical Complex (HMC) Peshawar, Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH) and Lady Reading Hospital.

Due to high influx of patients there were limited beds in the emergency ward of HMC while several patients expired on way to KTH. The relatives of the deceased families also protested over the lack of beds and facilities at the hospital. Moving scenes were witnessed in the emergency wards of HMC and KTH as majority of the patients were taken there. People were searching for their near and dear ones. A man and his son were among the martyrs.

Edhi sources said that they collected four bodies of suicide bombers from the site and three out of them were killed on the spot while the fourth one was injured in police fire and he expired later on. Heavy contingents of police and army rushed to the site to participate in the operation and after efforts of two and half hours the building was cleared. Police also defused four explosive devices.

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) Inspector General of Police Nasir Khan Durrani told media persons that the terrorists, instead of using main gate of the imambargah where security personnel were deputed, came through alternative routes and used a nearby building for getting in.

SSP operations Dr Mian Saeed said three suicide bombers entered the mosque but only one of them could blow himself up. One suicide bomber was killed by security personnel while the third one was arrested in injured condition but he later expired.

The KPK information minister termed it a security failure and absence of sufficient FC personnel in the region bordering with Fata to guard the settled areas and frontier regions. He condemned the blast and directed the quarters concerned to ensure best possible treatment to the injured.

TTP spokesman Khalifa Umar Mansoor Khurassani in a video clip sent through email claimed responsibility. He said the attack was revenge for the execution of Dr Usman, who was recently executed along with some of his associates for a life bid on former president Pervez Musharraf.

“I inform the political and army leadership that after APS (Army Public School) incident in Peshawar, you people have started executing prisoners. You executed Dr Usman; to revenge the execution of Dr Usman I am sending these youth,“ the brief transcription of the video said.

He added, “I challenge (Interior Minister) Chaudhry Nisar, (Prime Minister) Nawaz Sharif, (Army Chief) Raheel Sharif and (ISI DG) Rizwan Akhtar that I am sending these bombers, stop them if you can. It is the first squad I am sending to revenge the killing of Dr Usman and (you) wait for more,“ he maintained.

In another message received to our correspondent, commander of Lashkar-e-Salahuddin Ayubi said that the attack on the imambargah was carried out by the fighters of Lashkar-e-Islam (their main group) and it was reaction of Khyber One military operation which is being carried out in Khyber Agency.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak, Govenor Sardar Mehtab Ahmad Khan and PTI Chairman Imran Khan strongly condemned the tragic incident and termed it an inhumane act. They expressed grief over the loss of lives in the terrorist attack. The chief minister directed the authorities to ensure provision of the best medical treatment to the injured. He said the government was committed to eradicating the menace of terrorism and extremism from the country. The KP CM also announced Martyrs’ Package for the victims and directed for early compensation to the families of all the martyred and injured.

Monitoring adds: Protests erupted across the country on Friday evening in the wake of the deadly attack on the Peshawar imambargah, according to media reports.

There were reports of agitation and protests from different areas of Peshawar where people burnt tyres, blocked roads and chanted slogans denouncing militants and attacks on worshippers.

Members of civil society staged protest at Supermarket in Islamabad. They chanted slogans against militants and blamed the government for not being able to curb the menace of terrorism.

They further demanded that the government initiate a clean-up operation against militant elements throughout the country.

Member of MWM and people from different walks of life staged a protest in Multan against the attack on imambargah in Peshawar. Protesters chanted slogans denouncing the terror attacks by Taliban and burnt tyres near the Nawan Shehar chowk which blocked the road and flow of traffic came to a standstill in the area.

Pakistan Bar Council has also announced to observe mourning in the wake of militant attack at the imambargah in Peshawar, said a statement issued on Friday. Lawyers will appear in the courts wearing black armbands, it added.