PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — The death toll from a suicide bombing at a mosque in northwestern Pakistan jumped to 74 on Tuesday, police and rescue officials said, after rescuers recovered 15 more from the rubble corpse.
Chief rescue officer Bilal Faizi said they were still removing rubble after the roof of the mosque collapsed after the attack.
More than 150 people were also injured in the bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar, he said. It was unclear how the bomber was able to slip into the walled compound in a high-security area with other government buildings.
Also, on Tuesday, mourners buried victims of the bombing at various cemeteries in Peshawar and elsewhere.
Sarbakaf Mohmand, the commander of the Pakistani Taliban, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, claimed responsibility for the attack in a post on Twitter.
But hours later, TTP spokesman Mohammad Khurasani distanced the group from the bombing, saying its policy does not target mosques, seminaries and places of worship, adding that under TTP policy, participation in Those who engage in such behavior may face punitive action. His statement did not say why the TTP commander claimed responsibility for the blast.
“The scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is no less than an attack on Pakistan,” Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif tweeted., he visited the wounded in Peshawar and vowed to take “stern action” against those behind the bombing. He offered his condolences to the families of the victims, saying their pain was “beyond words”.
Pakistan, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in armed attacks since the Taliban ended a ceasefire with government forces last November.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban claimed that one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officials, including the head of the counterterrorism division of the country’s military spy agency, the ISI. The gunman was hunted down and killed in a shootout in the northwest near the border with Afghanistan, security officials said on Monday.
The TTP is independent of the Afghan Taliban, but is a close ally of it. The TTP, which has waged an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years, has sought stricter enforcement of Islamic law, the release of its members detained by the government and a reduction of Pakistan’s military presence in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region it has long used as a base .
Monday’s attack on a Sunni mosque inside a police facility was one of the deadliest against security forces in recent years.
More than 300 worshipers were praying at the mosque, with many more approaching when the bomber detonated his explosive vest. According to police officer Zafar Khan, many people were injured when the roof collapsed and rescuers had to clear piles of rubble to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble.
Meena Gul, who was at the mosque when the bomb went off, said he did not know how he survived the attack unscathed. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard crying and screaming after the explosion.
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, and the Pakistani Taliban is powerful. The city has always been an area with frequent armed attacks.
The Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021, with U.S. and NATO troops withdrawing from the country after 20 years of war.
The Pakistani government’s truce with the TTP ended as the country continued to grapple with unprecedented floods that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and at one point submerged a third of the country. 022.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of the explosion at a mosque in Peshawar that has killed many people and injured many others,” Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement, condemning the attack on worshipers as a violation of Islamic teachings.
The Saudi embassy in Islamabad, as well as the US embassy, also issued condemnations, adding that “the US stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism”.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the bombings targeting places of worship “particularly abhorrent,” UN spokesman Stephen Dujarric said.
Cash-strapped Pakistan faces severe economic crisis And is seeking an important $1.1 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund — part of its $6 billion rescue package — to avoid default. Talks with the International Monetary Fund to revive the bailout have stalled over the past few months.
Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the blast a “terrorist suicide attack”. He tweeted: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. We must improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police force to combat the growing terrorist threat.”
Sharif’s government came to power in April after Khan was ousted in a no-confidence vote in parliament. Khan has since campaigned for early elections, claiming his ouster was illegitimate and part of a U.S.-backed conspiracy. Washington and Sharif dismissed Khan’s claims.
Associated Press Writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.