59 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a mosque in Pakistan, and more than 150 others were wounded

PESHAWAR, Pakistan (AP) — A suicide bomber blew up a crowded mosque inside a police compound in Pakistan on Monday, causing the roof to collapse and killing at least 59 people and wounding more than 150, officials said.

Most of the victims were police officers. It was not clear how the attacker managed to infiltrate the gated compound that houses the police headquarters in the northwestern city of Peshawar and itself is located in a heavily guarded area with other government buildings.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, a commander in the Pakistani Taliban, claimed responsibility for the attack on Twitter. It was not immediately possible to obtain comment from the main spokesman for the militant group.

“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is nothing short of an attack on Pakistan,” Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif tweeted.who visited the wounded in Peshawar and vowed to “take tough action” against those behind the bombing. He expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, saying that 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, in another attack claimed by the Pakistani Taliban, a gunman shot and killed two intelligence officers, including the director of the counter-terrorism wing of the country’s army-based spy agency InterService. Security officials said on Monday that the gunman was tracked down and killed in a shootout in the country’s northwest, near the Afghan border.

Monday’s attack on a Sunni mosque inside the police headquarters was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

The armed group, also known as Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan or TTP, is separate from but a close ally of the Afghan Taliban. The Pakistani Taliban have waged an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years, seeking stricter enforcement of Islamic laws, the release of its members detained by the government, and a reduction of Pakistan’s military presence in the areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa that it has long used as its base. .

More than 300 worshipers were praying at the mosque with more approaching when the attacker detonated his explosive vest. Many were injured when the roof fell, according to Zafar Khan, a police officer, and rescuers had to clear piles of debris to reach worshipers still trapped under the rubble.

Mina Gul, who was in the mosque when the bomb exploded, said he did not know how he escaped unharmed. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard screams and screams after the explosion.

Muhammad Asim, spokesman for the main government hospital in Peshawar, said the death toll was 59 and 157 wounded. Police official Siddique Khan blew himself up while he was among the worshipers.

Senior police and government officials attended the funerals of 30 police officers and arrangements were made for the burial of the remainder. The coffins were draped in the Pakistani flag and their bodies were later handed over to their relatives for burial.

Peshawar is the capital of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, where the Pakistani Taliban has a strong presence, and the city has been the scene of frequent attacks from militants.

The Afghan Taliban seized power in neighboring Afghanistan in August 2021 as US and NATO forces withdraw from the country after 20 years of war.

The Pakistani government’s truce with the TTP ended as the country was still battling unprecedented floods that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than two million homes and at one point submerged up to a third of the country.

Mohmand, of the militant group, said a fighter carried out the attack in revenge for the death of Abdul Wali, widely known as Omar Khaled Khorasani, who was killed in neighboring Paktika province in Afghanistan in August 2022.

The Afghan Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that it was “sad to learn that many people lost their lives and many others were injured in an explosion in a mosque in Peshawar”, and denounced the attacks on worshipers as contrary to the teachings of Islam.

Condemnations were also issued from the Saudi Embassy in Islamabad, as well as from the US Embassy, ​​adding that “the United States stands with Pakistan in condemning all forms of terrorism.”

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the bombing as “particularly abhorrent” to target a place of worship.

Cash-strapped Pakistan is facing a severe economic crisis It is seeking a crucial $1.1 billion installment from the International Monetary Fund – part of the $6 billion bailout package – to avoid default. Talks with the International Monetary Fund about reviving the bailout have stalled in recent months.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan described the bombing as a “suicide terrorist attack”. He tweeted: “My prayers and condolences are with the families of the victims. It is imperative that we improve our intelligence gathering and adequately 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 vote of no confidence in Parliament. Khan has since campaigned for snap elections, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a US-backed conspiracy. Washington and Sharif rejected Khan’s claims.

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Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.

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