A suicide bombing that struck inside a mosque at a police and government compound in northwest Pakistan reflects “security lapses,” current and former officials said, as the death toll from the devastating blast climbed to 100 on Tuesday.
The blast, which ripped through a Sunni mosque inside a major police facility in the city of Peshawar, was one of the deadliest attacks on Pakistani security forces in recent years. It left as many as 225 wounded, some still in serious condition in hospital, according to Kashif Aftab Abbasi, a senior officer in the city of Peshawar.
More than 300 worshipers were praying in the mosque in the city of Peshawar, with more devotees approaching, when the bomber set off his explosives vest Monday morning, officials said.
The blast blew off part of the roof, and what was left soon caved in, injuring many more people, according to Zafar Khan, a police officer. Rescuers had to remove mounds of debris to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble.
More bodies were retrieved overnight and early Tuesday, according to Mohammad Asim, a government hospital spokesman in Peshawar, and several of those critically injured died. “Most of them were policemen,” Asim said of the victims. The bombing also wounded more than 150 people.
Bilal Faizi, the chief rescue official, said rescue teams were still working Tuesday at the site as more people were believed to be trapped inside. Mourners buried victims at graveyards in the city and elsewhere.
Counter-terrorism police are investigating how the bomber was able to reach the mosque, which is in a walled compound in a high-security zone with other government buildings.
“Yes, it was a security lapse,” said Ghulam Ali, the provincial governor in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, of which Peshawar is the capital.
Abbasi, the senior officer, concurred. “There was a security lapse, and the inspector-general of the police has set up an inquiry committee, which will look into all aspects of the bombing,” he said. “Action will be taken against those whose negligence” caused the attack.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd J .Austin III on Tuesday said the U.S. would increase its deployment of advanced weapons such as fighter jets and bombers to the Korean Peninsula as it strengthens joint training and operational planning with South Korea in response to the North’s growing nuclear threat.
Austin made the comments in Seoul after he and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup agreed to expand their combined military exercises, including a resumption of live-fire demonstrations, and continue a “timely and coordinated” deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the region, according to their offices.
Austin and Lee also discussed preparations for a simulated exercise between the allies in February aimed at sharpening their response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons.
Austin’s trip comes as South Korea seeks stronger assurances that the U.S. will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally in face of a North Korean nuclear attack.
South Korea’s security jitters have risen since North Korea test-fired dozens of missiles in 2022, including potentially nuclear-capable ones designed to strike targets in South Korea and the U.S. mainland.
At a joint news conference following their meeting, Austin and Lee said they agreed that their countries’ resumption of large-scale military drills last year, including an aerial exercise involving U.S. strategic bombers in November, effectively demonstrated their combined capabilities to deter North Korean aggression.
The allies had downsized their training in recent years to create room for diplomacy with North Korea during the Trump administration and because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We deployed fifth-generation aircraft, F-22s and F-35s. We deployed a carrier strike group to visit the peninsula. You can look for more of that kind of activity going forward,” Austin said.
He said the U.S. commitment to protecting its allies with its full range of military capabilities, including nuclear ones, remained “iron-clad.”
North Korea’s ramped-up missile tests have been punctuated by threats to preemptively use its nuclear weapons in a broad range of scenarios in which it perceives its leadership to be under threat, including conventional clashes or non-war situations.
Ukraine’s push for fighter jets to help beat back Russia’s invasion force risks straining the unity of Ukraine’s Western allies, amid fears that the move could escalate the nearly yearlong conflict and draw them deeper into the war.
Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov was due in Paris on Tuesday, where the possible delivery of fighter jets to Ukraine was expected to be on the agenda of official talks.
Kyiv officials have repeatedly urged allies to send jets, saying they are essential to challenge Russia’s air superiority and to ensure the success of future counteroffensives that could be spearheaded by tanks recently promised by Western countries, including the U.S.
There was no indication that a decision on warplanes for Ukraine would come any time soon and no sign that Western countries had changed their earlier stance on the issue. Ukraine’s backers also have ruled out providing Kyiv with long-range missiles able to hit Russian territory.