PESHAWAR, Pakistan ( Associated Press) — A suicide bomber blew himself up Monday at a mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan, causing the roof to collapse and killing at least 59 people and injuring more than 150. officials said.
Most of the victims were police officers. It is not clear how the attacker got into the walled compound that houses the police headquarters in Peshawar, a city in the country’s northwest, and is located in a high-security area with other government buildings.
Pakistani Taliban commander Sarbakf Mohmand claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. But hours later, a spokesman for the group, also known as the Tariq-i-Taliban-Pakistan or TTP, Mohammad Khurasani, distanced himself from the group, saying they do not attack religious places and that people who Those involved in such acts will be punished. Under TTP rules. His statement did not mention why a TTP commander claimed responsibility for the first attack.
The terrorist group is a separate but affiliated branch of the Afghan Taliban. TTP has been insurgent in Pakistan for 15 years. It seeks to establish a strict rule of Islamic law in the country, release its detained members and reduce the presence of the Pakistani military in areas of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, on which it bases its base.
“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is nothing but an attack on Pakistan,” tweeted Prime Minister Shabaz Sharif, visiting the compound in Peshawar and promising “stern action” against those responsible. He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, saying that their pain “cannot be described in words.”
Sunni Muslim-majority Pakistan has seen an increase in terrorist attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended its ceasefire with government forces.
A few weeks earlier, in another attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, a gunman shot dead two intelligence agents, including the head of the counter-terrorism branch of the country’s army-based spy agency, Multi-Service Intelligence. Security officials said on Monday the gunman was located and killed in an encounter in the northwest near the border with Afghanistan.
Monday’s attack on the Sunni mosque was one of the deadliest attacks against security forces in recent years.
More than 300 worshipers were praying at the mosque, and were on their way out, when the attacker detonated his explosive vest. According to Zafar Khan, a police officer, several people were injured when the roof collapsed and rescue teams had to clear piles of debris to reach the trapped worshippers.
Meena Gul, who was inside the mosque when the bomb went off, said she did not know how she escaped unhurt. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard screams and cries after the explosion.
Mohammad Asim, a spokesman for Peshawar’s main government hospital, put the death toll at 59, with 157 others injured. Police officer Siddiqui Khan said the attacker blew himself up among worshippers.
Condemnation came from various quarters, including the Saudi Embassy and the US Embassy in Islamabad, which stated that “the United States stands in solidarity with Pakistan and condemns terrorism in all forms.”
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called the attack “particularly abhorrent” for targeting a religious site, said spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
The Associated Press reporter Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed to this report.