Death toll from Pakistan mosque suicide bombing rises to 74


PESHAWAR, Pakistan — The death toll from the previous day’s suicide bombing at a mosque in northwestern Pakistan rose to 74 on Tuesday after rescuers recovered 15 more bodies from the rubble, police and rescue officials said.

Bilal Faizi, the chief rescue officer, said they were still clearing the debris after the mosque’s roof collapsed after the attack.

He said the bombing in the northwestern city of Peshawar also injured more than 150 people. It was not clear how the bomber managed to penetrate the walled compound in a high-security zone with other government buildings.

Mourners also buried the bomb victims in various cemeteries in Peshawar and elsewhere on Tuesday.

Sarbakaf Mohmand, 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 bombings, saying it was not their policy to attack mosques, seminaries and religious sites, adding that those taking part in such acts were within TTP policy could face penalties. His explanation did not address why a TTP commander had claimed responsibility for the bombing.

“The sheer scale of the human tragedy is unimaginable. This is nothing less than an attack on Pakistan,” tweeted Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, who visited the Peshawar wounded and promised “tough 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 largely Sunni Muslim, has seen a surge in militant attacks since November, when the Pakistani Taliban ended their truce with government forces.

Earlier this month, Pakistan’s Taliban claimed that one of their members shot dead two intelligence officers, including the director of the counter-terrorism wing of the country’s military-backed spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence. Security officials said Monday the gunman was tracked down and killed in a shootout in the northwest near the Afghan border.

The TTP is separate from the Afghan Taliban but is a close Afghan Taliban ally. The TTP has led an insurgency in Pakistan for the past 15 years to seek stricter enforcement of Islamic law, the release of its members from government custody, and a reduction in the Pakistani military presence in areas of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, which it has long used as a base .

The attack on a Sunni mosque at the police facility on Monday was one of the deadliest attacks on security forces in recent years.

More than 300 worshipers were praying inside the mosque and more were approaching when the gunman detonated his explosive vest. According to Zafar Khan, a police officer, many 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 didn’t know how he survived unharmed. The 38-year-old police officer said he heard screams 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 frequently been the scene of militant attacks.

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

The government of Pakistan’s ceasefire with the TTP ended as the country was still grappling with unprecedented floods that killed 1,739 people, destroyed more than 2 million homes and at one point flooded a third of the country.022.

The Afghan Foreign Ministry said in a statement it was “saddened to learn that scores of people lost their lives and many others were injured in an explosion at a mosque in Peshawar,” and condemned attacks on worshipers as violating 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 installment from the International Monetary Fund – part of its $6 billion bailout package – to avoid a default. Talks with the IMF about reviving the rescue package have stalled in recent months.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan called the attack a “terrorist suicide attack”. He tweeted: “My prayers and condolences go out to the families of the victims. It is imperative that we improve our intelligence 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 a snap election, claiming his ouster was illegal and part of a US-backed conspiracy. Washington and Sharif reject Khan’s claims.

Associated Press writer Munir Ahmed in Islamabad contributed.

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