The death toll from a powerful suicide bombing at a crowded Peshawar mosque in northwestern Pakistan rose to 93 on Tuesday after rescue teams retrieved more bodies from the debris, police said.
The outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has taken responsibility for the attack which took place inside the mosque in the high-security Police Lines area on Monday.
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According to security officials, the suicide attacker was present in the front row during the Zuhr (afternoon) prayers when he exploded himself. Sahibzada Noor Ul Amin, the Imam of the mosque, was also killed in the blast, police said.
They said a total of 93 have died while 221 others have been injured in the attack.
“The death toll of Peshawar blast has risen to 93 as rescue operation is still underway and debris of mosque is being removed,” the state-run Radio Pakistan reported.
According to Police Control Room Peshawar, more than two-hundred injured were brought to the Lady Reading hospital, out of which about one-hundred injured are under treatment in the hospital and the rest have been discharged, it said.
Earlier, Spokesperson of the Lady Reading Hospital Muhammad Asim said that 157 injured people were brought to the medical facility after the blast.
“Bodies of 44 people were also transferred to the hospital. At the moment, around 65 injured are getting treatment at the Lady Reading Hospital. Some of the injured are critical, while condition of most is satisfactory,” Mr. Asim said, adding that most people among the injured and dead included police officers.
Capital City Police Officer, Peshawar (CCPO) Ejaz Khan, while talking to the media, said that it was too early to say anything as many policemen are still trapped under the rubble.
“Close to 300-400 policemen usually offer prayer at the Zuhr time. If a blast has taken place inside police lines then it is a security lapse but an investigation into the matter can reveal further,” said the CCPO.
Mr. Khan said that there is a possibility that the attacker may have entered the mosque compound in an official vehicle.
“[The] CTD is investigating the case,” he said.
A preliminary investigation report of the blast has been sent to Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, Geo News reported, citing sources.
Sources said that evidence found at the site of the incident indicates that it was a suicide attack. As per the report, the roof tumbled down as the pillars collapsed, causing a lot of damage. A high-level investigation committee has been set up to look into the security lapses, the report said.
President, PM condemn attack
Pakistan President Dr Arif Alvi and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif have condemned the attack.
“I strongly condemn the heinous & cowardly blast that has taken place in Peshawar mosque. The perpetrators will be found and punished. Condolences to families who have lost an innocent member & prayers for injured. Terrorism must be buried forever,” Dr. Alvi tweeted.
Mr. Sharif said the blast inside the mosque proves that those involved in the attack have “nothing to do with Islam”. “These terrorists are trying to instil fear by targeting those who perform the duty of defending Pakistan,” he said, assuring the people that the coalition government will take strict action against those involved in the attack.
PTI Chairman and ex-premier Imran Khan also took to Twitter to condemn the suicide attack.
“Strongly condemn the terrorist suicide attack in police lines mosque Peshawar during prayers. My prayers & condolences go to victims’ families. It is imperative we improve our intelligence gathering & properly equip our police forces to combat the growing threat of terrorism,” he wrote.
Last year, a similar attack inside a Shia mosque in the Kocha Risaldar area in the city killed 63 people.
The TTP, set up as an umbrella group of several militant outfits in 2007, called off a ceasefire with the federal government and ordered its militants to stage terrorist attacks across the country.
The group, which is believed to be close to al-Qaeda, has been blamed for several deadly attacks across Pakistan, including an attack on army headquarters in 2009, assaults on military bases, and the 2008 bombing of the Marriott Hotel in Islamabad.
In 2014, the Pakistani Taliban stormed the Army Public School (APS) in the northwestern city of Peshawar, killing at least 150 people, including 131 students. The attack sent shockwaves across the world and was widely condemned.