An entire three-storey building was blown apart yesterday as Pakistani security forces detonated a huge amount of explosives hidden inside, after a bloody, hours-long gun battle with militants holed up in a crowded city.
Video footage by an AFP reporter at the scene shows the building collapsing in the blast, with a cloud of dust and debris rising from the fallen structure.
Officials said that the militants – who have not yet been identified – had used the building, in the Hayatabad residential area of Peshawar, as a hideout.
Shafqat Malik, chief of Peshawar’s bomb disposal squad, told AFP that the militants had planted a motorcycle bomb at the gate of the building, and linked it to more than 50kg of explosives throughout the structure.
Officers from the bomb disposal squad carried out a controlled detonation of the motorcycle device, Malik said, triggering the explosives inside and bringing the building crashing down.
The blast came after security forces had fought the militants for 17 hours, authorities said.
In the moments before the explosion in the video footage, bullet holes can be seen across the building’s facade.
“During exchange of fire, five terrorists have been killed,” the Pakistan military said in a statement, adding that one police officer was also killed, and two officers wounded.
Qazi Jameel, police chief for Peshawar city, told reporters that militants opened fire on security forces with automatic guns, and also used mortars and hand grenades.
The suspects had taken cover in a residential building in Phase 7 of the Hayatabad locality, from where they attacked security forces.
Jameel told the media that one of the suspects had been killed late on Monday night, and the rest were killed yesterday.
“The Special Services Group and police personnel participated in the operation. Two of them were injured during (yesterday’s) action,” he said.
The officer killed in the operation had lost his life on Monday night.
Jameel said that investigators are working to identify the militants.
Peshawar Corps Commander Lieutenant General Shaheen Mazhar Mahmood visited the site of the operation yesterday morning.
During his visit, Mahmood directed security officials to adopt all possible precautions to ensure the security of the area’s affected residents.
Residents living around the demolished building were evacuated with the help of security personnel and rescue forces.
Two injured women from the area were also shifted to the Hayatabad Medical Complex for treatment.
A local resident said that gunfight started in the midst of a search operation launched by police in the area.
“This area was considered peaceful, but the recent incident has proved it otherwise,” the person said.
Talking about the suspects, the eyewitness said: “The people [the suspected militants] had been living in the house on a rental basis for almost 15 days.
“They seemed to be from the rural areas, from their appearance. All of them were middle-aged men, and there were no woman with them. They used to enter and exit the building using the basement door.”
Neither the military nor Peshawar police named which of the myriad militant groups operating in Pakistan that the fighters belonged to.
Mohamed Khurasani, a spokesman for Pakistani Taliban, said in a text message to reporters the five dead men were members of the militant group.
The Pakistani Taliban are an umbrella group of several Sunni Islamist militant outfits waging war to overthrow the government.
The Taliban want to transform the nuclear-armed nation and govern it along strict Islamic Sharia laws.
The insurgents’ strength has been sapped in recent years by successive Pakistani military operations, leading to a sharp drop in militant violence in recent years.
However, the militants continue to pose a risk, including by launching attacks on soft targets, such as last week’s bombing which killed 19 in Quetta.
The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the Quetta attack.
Islamabad has fought a long battle with Islamist militancy, with tens of thousands of people believed killed.
Peshawar, near the Afghan border, was for years at the centre of much of the violence.
However, security across the country, including in Peshawar, has dramatically improved since a government and military crackdown in recent years.
Analysts warn, however, that Pakistan has yet to tackle the root causes of extremism.
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