The death toll from a suicide bombing at a mosque in Pakistan has reached 74
PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — The death toll from the previous day’s suicide bombing at a mosque in northwest Pakistan rose to 74 on Tuesday after rescuers pulled 15 more bodies from the rubble, police and an emergency official said.
Bilal Faizi, the chief rescue officer, said they were still removing rubble after the roof of the mosque collapsed following the attack.
He said the bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar also injured more than 150 people. It is not clear how the bomber was able to sneak into the walled compound in a high-security area with other government buildings.
Also on Tuesday, mourners buried the victims of the bombings at various cemeteries in Peshawar and elsewhere.
Sarbaqaf Momand, a 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 it was not its policy to attack mosques, seminaries and religious places, adding that those involved in such acts could face criminal action under the policy of TTP. His statement did not mention why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the attack.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is nothing less than an attack on Pakistan,” he tweeted Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who visited the injured in Peshawar and promised “stern action” against those behind the bombing. He offered his condolences to the families of the victims, saying their pain “cannot be described in words”.
Pakistan, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended a ceasefire with government forces.
Earlier this month, the Pakistani Taliban said one of its members shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counter-terrorism wing of the country-based military spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said Monday that the gunman was tracked down and killed in a shootout in the northwest near the border with Afghanistan.
The TTP is a separate but close ally of the Afghan Taliban. The TTP has been waging an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic law, the release of its members from state custody and a reduction in Pakistan’s military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province it has long used as its base.
Monday’s attack on a Sunni mosque inside the police facility was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.
More than 300 worshipers were praying at the mosque, with more arriving when the bomber detonated his explosives vest. According to Zafar Khan, a police official, many were injured when the roof collapsed and rescuers had to remove piles of debris to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble.
Meena Gul, who was inside the mosque when the bomb went off, said she did not know how he survived unharmed. The 38-year-old policeman said he heard shouts and screams after the blast.
Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban have a strong presence and the city has been the scene of frequent militant attacks.
The Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021, when US and NATO troops withdrew from the country after 20 years of war.
The Pakistani government’s truce with the TTP ended as the country was still struggling with unprecedented floods that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and at one point submerged up to a third of the country.022.
Afghanistan’s foreign ministry said in a statement that it was “sad to learn that many people lost their lives and many others were injured in an explosion at a mosque in Peshawar” and condemned the attacks on worshipers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.
Condemnations also came from the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, as well as the US embassy, adding that “the United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the bombing “particularly heinous” because it targeted a place of worship, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
Cash-strapped Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis and is seeking a crucial $1.1 billion contribution from the International Monetary Fund — part of its $6 billion bailout — to avoid bankruptcy. Talks with the IMF to revive the bailout have stalled in recent months.
Pakistan’s former prime minister Imran Khan called the attack a “terrorist suicide attack”. He tweeted: “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. It is imperative that we improve our intelligence gathering and properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism.
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 removal was illegal and part of a plot backed by the United States. Washington and Sharif reject Khan’s claims.
Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.
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